April 24, 2004

Orwell quote fun

"Some ideas are so ridiculous that only an intellectual could believe them."

Attributed to George Orwell, but I can't find an exact reference. (Alternative versions have the ideas as "stupid", "preposterous", "absurd", and "crazy." Anyone know where this comes from?)

April 23, 2004

Learn-about-Georgia Day

We're all way too depressed about the possibility of a positive and peaceful outcome in Venezuela. So I'm declaring today Learn-about-Georgia day. We're talking post-Soviet Georgia, where a "rose revolution" peacefully overthrew a Soviet-era dictator last year. The overthrow of Shevardnaze was an inspiration, and the new government of Georgia is, to my mind, absolutely remarkable. Read up! I guarantee it'll make you feel better.

I heard this sensational documentary about it on the BBC yesterday and I felt like I needed to share. Because, man, if you think no one cares about Venezuela, spare a thought for Georgia - they're as low in the international priorities list as you can go. But did they give up? No! They rolled up their sleeves, they decided to give themselves a government that does not tolerate corruption, and so they're doing it, they're overcoming their history, they're overcoming their total absence of a democratic tradition, and they're building their future themselves. If they can do it, surely we can do it too.

President Mikhail Saakashvili

I really urge you all to read up on President Saakashvili and, especially, to listen to the really remarkable BBC documentary about the new government. It's 25 minutes long. You need a RealAudio player, but that's free and so is the BBC content.

Beyond that, here's some more Georgian food for Venezuelan thought:

Fact Index: Mikhail Saakashvili: Bio

BBC: Poll triumph for Georgian leader

BBC: Young cabinet named in Georgia

Open Democracy: Mikhail Saakashvili: new romantic or modern realist?

Open Democracy: The pillars of Georgia’s political transition

BBC: Mikhail Saakashvili Profile

BBC: Georgia 'revolution' inspires neighbours

Civil Georgia: New Georgian Parliament Convened

Radio Free Europe: Saakashvili Raising Hopes That Corruption May Be Tackled In Earnest

Civil Georgia: Government-friendly online news.

Georgia Tourism Office: A tough sell

Breaking the coalition

It's the standard advice negotiators get when facing a particularly tough negotiating partner. The Romans built a tidy little empire on the principle.

Stuck? Divide your enemies.

One would expect VP Cicero, of all people, to be well versed in such tactics. Predictably, the initial reactions to the reparo regulations from the opposition coalition were divided. Most of the antichavez coaltion seems to agree that participating is the least-bad idea - including AD, MAS, Causa R, Bandera Roja, Union (most of it), Solidaridad, and others. But a few voices on the center-right - Primero Justicia, Proyecto Venezuela, and Alianza Bravo Pueblo - disagree and call for following "the judicial route."

From this point of view, CNE did a sterling job, carefully calibrating the reparo procedures to split the opposition down the middle. Brito's draft of last week was just a trial balloon to see how much CNE could get away with. They could see that if they agreed to the Comando Ayacucho proposal to check 50% of the fingerprints, they would fail in the broader drive to divide the coalition, simply because NO ONE in the opposition could agree to that. In retrenching, CNE again found "sweet spot" - that gray area acceptable to one part of the opposition, but not the other.

Sigh. It stinks to see the government apply such a basic strategy and succeed. I've been spending too much time fantasizing about just grabbing Julio Borges, el viejo Salas, and Ledezma and just slapping them again and again until they snap out of it. I don't understand their attitude at all. If they don't see the need for unity now, if they don't realize they're playing into the government's hands now, when will they? Also, was it just me or is it clear that the "divisionists" who "don't really want a recall" that Ramos Allup was ranting about last week were, in fact, the PJ cagaleche squad?

Can someone please explain?

April 22, 2004

Hold your nose and repair?

Wielding his newly expanded prestige, Pompeyo Márquez says the opposition should accept the reparos methods announced by CNE. His reasoning is Janette's - yes they'll try to cheat, but we should go for it anyway.

So the opposition does seem minded to play ball on the repairs, but it does seem a bit premature to take a position so soon. Amazingly, even today, going on five months after the signature drive, CNE has still not published its databases, or announced the exact detail of the reparos process (how many tables per signing center, etc.) Decisions are never ever final with these guys.

The evolution of chavista rhetoric...

No, guys, I'm not trying to torture you. I just thought it would be good to make this available to the foreign readers.

It's funny to think about the way Chavez's rhetoric has evolved over the years. I think the periodization goes something like this.

1998-2000: Radical people power. "The people are sovereign and they exercise that sovereignty directly, through the ballot box."

2001-2003: The Oligarchy did it. "Any problem we have, some rich Venezuelan is to blame."

2004: The Gringos did it. The Fidel speech cut-and-paste period.

The funny thing is that the guy gives a speech like this, then JVR blows a gasket when someone like Bill Nelson says the plainly evident, that it's not exactly a friendly line to take with the US.

Chavez is subtle. He shifts rhetorical lines gradually, almost imperceptibly. And you can learn a lot by looking at the rhetorical lines that have been discarded. For instance, have you noticed how the phrase "el pueblo soberano" ("the sovereign people") - which he used at least once per paragraph in 1998-2000 - has entirely disappeared from his lexicon? Instead, these days, we get an impassioned defense of the USSR - not a line the guy was using in 1998.

Six years it's taken for Chavez to just own up and admit he's a Communist...or, at least, sees the world in exactly the same terms as communists...

Sorry for the length - I wanted to repost in full, to give the foreign readers a sense, just a sense, of what a complete Chavez speech is like. Bear in mind, queridos gringos, that we've been watching speeches like this at least once a month, on cadena, for years...


Translation of Hugo Chavez's meeting and national broadcast (Cadena) from Avenida Urdaneta.
April 13, 2004.

I would like to give a very warm greeting. In a special and exemplifying way, I wish to greet my fellow citizens who have come today. Welcome to Bolívar's country. A welcome hug. Today, we will open the second event of solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution.

In these caribbean lands, Bolívar's flag has been raised, Bolívar being the leader of this revolution, yesterday, today and forever.

I believe there are many things we have to say here, in this Caracas, in April of 2004.

A true demonstration of courage, of consicience, of popular strength that the Venezuelan people gave, the people of Caracas, right here. This street, this very street, is a witness. These trees, these mountains, are witnesses of that unprecedented fact in the history of this continent. How a nation harassed, under a real terrorist media bombardment, who were denied all their rights, had to confront a tyranny of elite Venezuelan oligarchs ... a true example of conscience.

Ali Primera sang a song, "innocence does not kill a nation, but neither does it save it".

It is important to study the cause of the entire historical process, much more important for us, here in Venezuela and in the world, especially for those of us who are fighting to transform the world, on april 11, 2002 ... and also the causes of what happened on april 13.

Those two days have to be studied. We have to look at it. We cannot disconnect what has happened here. Those who believe themselves to be the owners and lords of the planet and we who cry out the slogan, let us be free, the rest is not important, what we want is to be free, we who want a world of just people.

What happened on april 11 has to be viewed in retrospect, because after the second world war, when the pretension of the fascist movement was beaten and the United States' imperialistic movement was imposed, every day we know it more clearly. Recently it was commented.

Some original documents, and I recommend always doing that, going to the original documents, because there are too many lies in the history books. The winners write the history books and they deceived us for a long time. I have always said, friends of the world, who are visiting us, recalling my tender youth, when we were cadets, it was never explained to me why we had to honor Christopher Columbus. To present arms to him and honor him. We were ordered to adore our invaders. Those who massacred our Indians, the owners and masters of our lands.

Today, the true history is emerging on this continent. We have nothing against Europe, but they have to recognize the historical truth. The people of Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia were colonized for so long.

To build the roads we should search for our roots, so that we can know who we are, where we come from and why we have to fight this battle. We who are alive must talk about it.

The North American Empire began to articulate the domination mechanisms, to impose an economic, political and amoral model. The pretension of dominating this continent is not new. During the 19th century, right here, in this Caracas, in Lima, Simón Bolívar put himself in front of the imperialist pretension. Monroe's slogan: America for the Americans. Bolivar had, like san martin, artigas o'higgins and many more, who would form a league of latin american nations, in order to balance the colossus of the north, so that they could negotiate on equal terms ... The union of the south and already, from Washington, they called Simón Bolívar the dangerous mad man of the south. They tried to kill him on several occasions ... And behind the killers was the hand of general Santander and behind him was the United States embassy in Colombia. Simón Bolívar said, for example, in 1825, when Spain recognized the freedom of Gran Colombia and of these countries of the south ... He actually said: "what kind of brothers are those from the north? They do not recognize our sovereignty."

Bolivar wrote this prophecy: "north america seems to be destined to infest the america with misery in the name of freedom". It has been fulfilled, sadly.

Thus, the intention of the North American elite to impose their will is not new. When I mention the elite, I mean exclusively the elite that governs the United States, that pretends to massacre the world. I want to clarify that.

We, as we love the Venezuelan people, the colombians, argentineans, mexican, salvadorians, nicaraguans, hondurans, cubans, in that same way we love the people of the united states, its men and women, children and hopes. And with them we share the hope, god willing, the conscience of the people of the continent, also flourish the people of abraham lincoln, the people of martin luther king, that assassinated fighter, people of how many? I always say this but I wish to clarify it. Our greetings to the people of north america are sent in this message, to the people manipulated by the tv networks, suffering the bombardments of the media elites, cnn, which only says what is convenient to the governing elites, or the main newspapers of usa, who lie.

They failed here because here the people are free. Who awoke and are right here, in their humility, but with a historical greatness. Their rebel blood, indian, black, caribbean. Writing a new page in history. Another battle of their long struggle for equality.

Freedom without equality is false. It is null. They pretend to sell us the idea of liberty. But, what is it? The liberty of the powerful who oppress the weak? That is not liberty. Between the strong and the weak, freedom oppresses. The uniting of the people ... Of the groups who struggle ... For that real freedom. Only together can we be free.

What happened here is part of the global scenery. They pretended to impose it to the world especially after the second world war.

It started briefly after the third world war or the cold war ... And we know how that contest between the northamerican superpower and the ussr ended. The dream could not be accomplished in the ussr ... And that degenerated into what "che" used to say. The soviet union was not going to copy the methods of imperialism. The soviet union fell and the madness was unleashed. Capitalism entered its expansive, accelerated and rational phase ..clearly, The capitalist elites do not know how to count, in spite of its equipment, technicians and its advanced technology. Something fails in the elites numbers. They decided to conquer the world. They used the thesis of the end of history, of the last man, the global village ... And the ones who have suffered most from that mad globalizing race are us, the underdeveloped countries.

One of the examples that is worth mentioning is our brother people from argentina ... To the argentinans, like to most of our countries in this continent. For different reasons, they applied over there an extreme dose of neoliberalism. That was a common factor. Here came the neoliberal fever. The privatizing wave. The thesis that the state should be reduced to the minimum expression ... That the military forces should disappear, because only the civilian police should patrol the streets. The thesis of the international monetary fund.

Only here, in Venezuela, it very soon started giving signs and responses and that is how there was a popular anti-neoliberal uprising on february 27, 1989. The people went to the streets and left the streets full of blood, in opposing the neoliberal project, the imf ... And later we know what happened ... I reached palace because of the will of these conscientious people, a government with a project. It is now more than five years.

At the end of the century, the Venezuelan people brought out from the depth of its soul, from its history, the conscience to bring a government that represents them, as it has, with dignity. Five years and 69 days to be exact.

The reason most powerful of those events that occurred here on april 11, 2002. That pretended on some occasion, said cynically by churchill, referring to the experience that was going on in the soviet union, the socialist revolution that was advancing. A phrase from king herod. We have to strangle the baby before it grows, referring to the ussr. That herodian, fascist phrase is traveling around Venezuelan lands now.

The elites, not only those who govern the usa, but the Venezuelans from the savage and gross oligarchy that dominate this land since a long time ago and who intended to continue governing it, they will never again come back.

Not only the Venezuelan elite has circulated that phrase, but also the elites of other american countries for whom the success of this project is not convenient ... And that is the reason why they celebrated with champagne and good whiskey on that april 12th.

But, as a good Venezuelan diplomat said, over there in bogotá, ... When the orchestra was arriving, a helicopter was landing here ... The orchestra did not have time to play. They could not take the second drink. Just as the Venezuelan oligarchy who came to fill the palace ... They left by the back door, to the dungyard of history. The Venezuelan people put them out of the palace.

In order not to lose the thread of the reflection that I tried to bring to you today, to the Venezuelan people… keep in mind what I was saying that what happens here is part of the global battle. I have said it several times.

The Venezuelan oligarchy and the elites of other countries, seeing the Bolivarian triumph in year 1998 and the arrival to the government in 1999, at the beginning applied the principle of 'if you can't fight them, join them'. As one of the oligarchy's spokesmen called me a bug, that I had to be dominated, they had to go after him to dominate him, and they came here to try to dominate the bug, but as I have said, the bug was more bug than they expected.

An operational siege was activated around me, especially during year 1999 and 2000. A real siege. But this heart that beats never stopped feeling the beats of the heart of the people. I did not come to betray the Venezuelan people. The Venezuelan people have been betrayed many times. I did not come to betray the people of simon Bolívar. From that chain of traitors. I did not come to negotiate principles - to surrender into the arms of the oligarchy. I came to be of help to the Venezuelan people, in their hopeful dreams of freedom. I will never forget those nights of april 11 and 12. At around this same time, around 8.05 P.m.

(Side commentary - off track salutations to noted visitors, etc.) Here is jose vicente rangel. A special greeting on this day. Of memories. General acosta carles. Bernal is around there, juan barreto, simón pestana, next mayor of baruta, secretary ana elisa osorio and with her the Bolivarian women. A kiss to you. There are the governors, jesus montilla, antonio rodríguez, to all of you my greetings, mayors, secretaries, congressmen. Tarek william saab, the next governor of anzoategui. Hero of this occasion. The Venezuelan people are the real heroes. Long live the Venezuelan people. Heroic, conscientious and united strength and exemplary ... And if the despotism raises its voice follow the example that Caracas gave (part of the national anthem).

Every day we have realized what is going on in the world scenario. The global battle ... Fighters from the rural paths … of the latin american brethren. We have so many that I cannot name them all because the meeting will be too long. You know, because you come here regularly. Feel at home. We love you;. We love you and want to share your battles that are the same as ours.

Now I want you to know that every day, these Venezuelan people have come after year 2002, after april 11, and all that happened that year. We are conscious, but have not lost our humility, and we do not feel indispensable. The history can only be made with the people united. We do not believe in predestined men, in solitary stars. Here we believe in the multitude, in the strength of the people. These Venezuelan people, everyday have realized and we, who have leadership roles, direction, have increased our conscience of the modest, small but very important role of the Bolivarian revolution.

These days, since we have a bigger conscience we have made the decision to take care of this process and what we do, the direction of the project, the strength, the originality of the project and especially the viability and success of the Bolivarian project. We know it can play an important role in awakening of the masses and the people, of the movements that are constructing and struggling in the four cardinal points.

Here we are and we need to be here always, fellowmen, very clear about the world's surroundings. The fascist coup of april 11th in Venezuela was not designed here in Venezuela but in washington. It has the white house's signature and the signature of the dominant elites in the usa.

I must repeat so that the world knows about it.

On april 12th, war ships landed at maiquetía. They violated the sovereignty of the caribbean and they were in paraguana. Planes flew within the Venezuelan airspace. From here, I raise my voice again ... And it is the voice of millions of men and women ... Saying that we will not permit any interference from the us government in Venezuela..

I have recently challenged the usa. I repeat it again. I make a bet with bush to see who lasts longer in government, he in the white house or me here. Now watch this, the threat.

Over there in Washington, they say that fidel castro and myself are a menace to the continent ... The destabilizers of the continent ... The bad boys.

The bad boys are they. They are the great destabilizers. If not, look what is happening in mesopotamia, in those lands where the code of hamurabi (021600) was born. There is a culture. I have had the joy of knowing the culture of the arab and persian countries. I have visited them. I studied its history, customs. I knew leaders, directors. It is a profound culture. More ancient than the anglo-saxon one. They are people who have fought during centuries and centuries. Look at what is happening now. Violence starts that no one knows when or where it will end.

And whose fault is it? Is it sadam hussein's fault? Is it the islamic fundamentalist's fault?

All the fault has a name george w. Bush!!! He is the culprit. So many children dead just two days ago. One day ago a missile fell and blood was shed in bagdad streets ... Faluya and many other towns. From here we send our hearts to the iraqui brethren ... And to the arabs in the middle east who are fighting against imperialism.

Recently, a writer called hans british gave me some books - and I look for time, especially in the early morning, to read. He discusses in one of his books the issue of the fourth world war ... And it is not his thesis ... But of a group of world thinkers. Wars, invasions, deaths, economic war, silence. You don't listen to bombs or machine guns. They are the silent bombs of hunger that kill thousands of children daily. The condemning neoliberalism.

Here there was a third world war. September 11 2001.

With those attacks. With the excuse, using the deaths and sorrow, the families and the terror. The government of the united states declared war practically on the world, and threatened those people and governments who did not align with their interest. He said that those who were not with the usa were against the usa.

We are not kneeling and we are against them. We are projustice. What happened here could be classified in this same framework. From that new stage, the so-called war against terrorism was launched into the world. Once the elite took, as an excuse, the fight against terrorism, in order to defeat nations as they did in guatemala, nicaragua, república dominicana, haiti and so many other brother nations.

They overthrew our comrade allende. They launched terror in chile, to overthrow that dignified president who preferred to die than lower his head.

Within that same framework is april 11 in Venezuela ... Part of this phenomenon called the fourth world war ... Afghanistan, iraq, cuba, and haiti.

See what happened there in haiti, it is there to see, as christ said, hypocrit pharisees. The elites are full of hypocrisy. It was nothing more than the kidnapping of a president.

One can ask, therefore, from here, where should we show our faces and we ask ourselves, how can we respond to the catholic religious elite, to the human rights commissions, to the oas, to the interamerican press society (who are permanently declaring that my government is a dictatorship, that there is no free press).

When you see aristide's kidnapping, you ask yourself, where is the oas, where is the un? ... They are saying nothing. Where are those international organisms? Those who say they defend democracy?

No less than north american troops invaded haiti and kidnapped president jean bertrand aristide. And, now. They are implementing a government and they recognize a transitional government.

We have stated we neither recognize nor will we recognize a government in haiti which is produced by a coup d'etat. We are very sorry. We call for international solidarity with haiti. Bolivar was helped a lot from over there. First to miranda, when he returned bringing the flag. It was haiti, the free black republic ... And then to Bolívar.

But let's get back to the global framework. To the empire, it is not convenient that this Bolivarian project, an alternative to the neoliberal model, be successful ... And it is being successful, against all odds. It continues advancing. It will continue advancing. Especially supported by the strength of the people and by the cooperation of many friends in the world.

Well, now, the second part of this reflection, seeing it globally, has to do with the causes, not of april 11th, the global war, the Venezuelan oligarchy, and the owners of private mass media, the ecclesiastic elite, and the corrupt union elite. The elites of those parties that governed for half a century ... All these elite groups: political, religious, social... The media elite, joined together, following orders from the white house.

But this is not a recent fact, in our countries, groups within the military sector forget their compromise with their countries and flags, and they knelt before the special interests.

Part of the high command of the armed forces, more than 60 generals and admirals and other groups, added themselves to the coup. They sent out all the force they were capable of concentrating. A social mass, that they managed to concentrate, poisoned by media terrorism, were sent against the palace.

The media bombardment, how funny, however, did not last even for 48 hours. All that strength concentrated at one moment, with all the advantages that power can give them, with the support of usa and other governments of this continent and europe. From a whole bunch of elites, an uninformed population because they had no way of knowing what was happening, but I will never forget, I said it a while ago, I am going to repeat what I once said.

I ask for forgiveness, my fellow citizens. I ask for forgiveness, because on that night of april 12th, after they took me prisoner and took me to bahía de turiamo, where they wanted to execute me before a firing squad, I was really exhausted ... And I committed a grave sin. I did what peter did when he denied christ. I, for an instant, denied that I had lived. I started to think that it had not been worthwhile to live. Nevertheless, from the bottom of my soul, a strength came out that told me "over there you have a people, hugo… a conscientious people! I must tell you that when I rose from that terrible doubt, I was planning to return. Thinking from a prison cell, I calculated about 6 months or one year to return. I never thought that, a few hours later, I would be back in this palace, in this street. How did that happen? ... And this is important… how could a people, without mass media, without clear and certain information, whose most important leaders were in prison, being persecuted? How could it be, that in less than 48 hours, we left this place around 3 a.m On april 12th, , the sun rose on april 13th , and we came back to this same place, almost exactly 47 hours later, we returned. What happened here?

We have to evaluate this especially because, comrades of the world, out there, in any place, where there is a popular transforming force, they will immediately start to feel the impact of the oligarchical forces of their own countries, and of the world.

How is it, that in Venezuela, the national elites and the imperialist forces could not overthrow a government? And they struck a strong blow at a vital point?

I will go through it, in order to contribute to the analysis that could be useful for those who are fighting against those elites in a country. Whatever its name, from any continent.

Here, in latin america, the awakening of the people. We have a group of governments that each day, has been assuming positions in defense of the interest of its people. Now, those governments, as I have said in a private meeting with some latin-american presidents, I told them "we, those who are governing our people, have a great dilemma in front of us, we either reinforce our engagement with our people or we slacken and we betray their hope." Here, we will not give up one millimeter. We will not betray the hopes of the Venezuelan people.

Now, this is important. Take a look to what happened on april 12th. I remember a first sign that the wind brought. I was a prisoner at fuerte tiuna ... Inside a room ... And there was a young officer watching the door. That young man had his doubts. He did not know what was going on. Suddenly I heard a rumor, not very far away ... Outside the walls, from the woods ... And I asked the young man, "do you hear that?" "What can that be?", I ask him. He looks through the window and tells me, no, those are soldiers jogging ... Doing physical training. On april 12th , in the afternoon, I told him, "no; I have years listening to soldiers jogging. Look son, those are not soldiers jogging. Those are people concentrating at the gates of fuerte tiuna. Who called them? The people themselves! Because they went there, or over there in maracay, the people went to the parachute brigade, why did they come to the palace, knowing that there were soldiers here? What triggered the people, no doubt many things! Second part

those conscientious people, the ones with their national leaders in the barrios, and a group of leaders, like iris varela and many others, went to fuerte tiuna and surrounded the military buildings.

There is an important element to be analyzed ... And I recommend the documentary (video) "the revolution will not be televised". On april 12th, Venezuela awoke with an electrified climate, while the oligarchy was possessed by the demon. Even the archbishops have the demon within. To god that which belongs to god and to ceasar that which belongs to ceasar. If christ was alive, here in person, I am sure he will cross the faces of some of them with a whip, and being each day more compromised with being a christian, christ did not believe in the elites.

Now, while the oligarchies were celebrating, as if possessed by the demon. [Chavez is distracted by the appearance in the crowd of general carneiro].

In history someone called a person "the brief". I am looking at a comrade of many years, general-in-chief jorge garcía carneiro, and for the Bolivarian soldiers of Venezuela, ... An applause for him. In Venezuela, for each military traitor that leaves us, we have one thousand patriots.

Here is something else to be analyzed in the Venezuelan case. We could imagine several scenarios. Those people who came here could have been massacred by the soldiers, ... But the people went without fear, confident ... And the soldiers filled with their Bolivarian essence ... And they hugged. And for life's reasons, I am a soldier and a citizen. I will never forget how proud I feel to be a soldier.

Now, one could also speculate that the people could have stayed in their houses, that the people could have been confused. The mass media, the media dictatorship ... They were informing all the people that I had resigned, and they repeated it a thousand times "chavez resigned". It would not be the first one who resigned in latin america ... And the people had believed that huge lie ... And also that we massacred the peaceful demonstration.

Nevertheless, a few hours later, in the barrios, and in the fields, there was silence ... And like 10 million tigers, or better yet, like indians, the Venezuelan people did like the good soldier who listened, or like the peasant who listens to the wind in order to see if it is going to rain. The people took a long time to react, but they left no place for any doubt, long before that patriot soldier left the prison where they had me, long before, without anyone speaking, the people knew hugo chávez had not resigned.

The people knew that "pedro the brief" had no legitimacy, despite what was being told on tv. All those thesis and theories of the fifth hell to confuse the Venezuelan people ... And the people knew the truth immediately ... And fought for their dignity.

It is also to be considered ... The role that the Venezuelan soldiers played. More than 60 generals and admirals called the armed forces saying that I was a killer.

My greetings to baduell. They threatened the officers, many young men from the armed forces ... They offered millions to baduell, and a position overseas.

They did the same with garcía carneiro. Together with the people and a group of leaders, they retook the palace of miraflores, at this very hour.

At this hour, the Venezuelan paratroopers went to la orchila island to rescue me.

Today, two years after that historical day, a day that even acquires epic features, that popular military rebellion against the media and the oligarchy rescued me.

What happened here is a main part of the project that is in action ... And, everyday, we fight more and more for unity and conscience. We must strengthen the unity and the conscience ... And these days are extremely important ... Now, when the battle is still open, when the oligarchy is still trying.

No, they will not be successful. They will not take over the power, not by the good way nor by the bad one. They will be defeated. The mathematics of the oligarchy is not good. Anything can happen with their mathematics, despite the signatures and the fraud intent, and the pressures.

That is why they do not want to validate their signatures. They failed in the test. They were recalled in order to validate, and now they want to put the college on fire. They cannot approve. They are conscious that they were not able to collect not even 20% of the signatures with the support of the mass media and the usa.

Eva brought a document that demonstrates how the american government supports the coupsters and we are going to publish it ... So that the public gets acquainted with the names and surnames of politicians who charge in us dollars. Mr. Bush has persons employed in this country. He is losing money. So many Bolivarian schools to be built, and so many people that could be taken care of with that amount of money.

We, with Venezuelan money, while mr. Bush uses millions of dollars. We have the proof even to whom they are giving it. While he pays, we are giving money to help u.s. Citizens with citgo. We employ thousands and thousands of workers in the u.s., .and That company supports at least one hospital in the usa, because citgo pays those expenses ... And bush feels proud. And, now, I want to tell the whole world that Venezuelan money helps to diminish the pain of the poor in the usa.

In bush's government there are millions of unemployed. The corruption has quintuplicated. On april 11th , the dictatorship was installed in Venezuela ... And, on april 13th , the soldiers wrote a memorable page in history.

Today, two years after that page was written in our history, I am saying many things, as I have mostly always said during this national broadcast, and it could sound like bad taste and simplistic, but it comes from the deepest part of my soul ... "Each day there is a crowd of people. For you men and women of the country". Thank you.

And I came to welcome this army of men and women, to ask for them the applause and recognition of this Venezuelan crowd.

And the battle has not ended.

It will be long; but, we have no option. And, now, when the rains are starting, I came to tell you that we are going for the governors' and the mayors' elections ... And I came to remind you that we, in this battle, cannot opt between life and death. We are obliged to succeed ... And long live Venezuela.

We will double the march, we will increase our stride, and our unity ... And we will continue the big march towards definite victory ... And "gloria al bravo pueblo": (a piece of the national anthem) "glory to the brave people"

April 21, 2004

Guest post: A Few Questions Greg Left Out

by jimmy humboldt

man, you're better at stats than i am, i certainly would never have looked up the confidence rating. that was a pretty good response, though to be honest i don't think the fact that the chavistas signed off on the megafraude is such an irrelevant detail -- i mean after all, why didn't they say something about the planillas planas until after they found out that including them would mean a recall vote?

the other thing i've always wanted to ask rodriguez is why did the chavistas fill out planillas planas as well? i've had friends of mine on the chavez camp tell me that they too had someone at the table fill out their name and info for them, and just signed and stamped their thumbprint -- this was upon the explicit instruction of the people running the chavista mesas to recall opposition deputies. does that mean that the government was trying to promote a megafraude as well? why can we assume the opposition used planillas planas for the purposes of faking signatures and not assume the same of the revolutionaries?

the cne line has always been that the rules for signing the petitions were "clearer than a rooster's crow" as the awkwardly translated popular expression holds it. but it seems that just about everyone was confused about this, including 1) opposition sympathizers who signed to remove chavez 2) government sympathizers who signed to recall opposition deputies 3) volunteers running mesas for both the chavistas and the opposition 4) observers from both the chavista and opposition camps. Could it be that maybe the rules were not that clear after all? Or more likely, that they were interpreted post facto in such a way that doesn't make any sense given their context?

there's another thing i've always wanted to point out to rodriguez -- there were three separate signature collection processes, two of which evidently failed. the opposition drive to chavista recall deputies, more of a vengeance manuever than a practical effort to change the balance of the legislature, was sponsored by accion democratica, and appears to have been able to convoke only a few referenda. the government campaign was similarly luckless, with a total of maybe three deputies that they could recall. as it happens, the only campaign that did in fact successfully collect the sigantures needed (even though some of the sheets had similar handwriting, as with ALL of the other processes) was the presidential one. And this recall process was the only one that had the organizational help of Sumate, a group that the chavistas have taken great pains to point out has received funding from theUS. Does this mean that the recall process is so onerous that the only ones who can successfully pull it off are those bankrolled by the National Endowment for Democracy? Does it take a grant from an imperial power to get through all the measures that ensure "transparency" in requesting a recall? Is this the participative democracy that led Chavez to rewrite a constitution and call three referenda in less than three years?

i'm not sure anyone has ever turned the chavista's US funding argument on its head, but it's an interesting angle to think about. The government is still pursuing a criminal investigation of sumate for allegedly usurping cne powers, and it has an active smear campaign against it. but why, if this organization has done more than any in the last two years to promote citizen participation, is it being taken apart by a government that proudly promotes participative (NOT representative) democracy?

It's the sampling, stupid!

...or...Why we can be absolutely sure Jorge Rodriguez has something to hide...

...or, perhaps just...

Dear Greg,

I thought you did a good job in your interview with JR, and I wish other Venezuelan journos would adopt that interviewing style: ask hard questions, but ask them respectfully. Like I said, I wish you'd asked him about the chavista-witness signatures on the actas, largely out of my own curiosity. I've never heard a convincing explanation of how you could have a megafraude and chavista witnesses willingly signing thousands of actas at the same time - but that's a relatively minor thing, and not really central to our judgments of JR. Actually, the questions you asked - and the responses he gave - are enough to leave me 100% sure the guy is hiding something. It's all about the sampling.

According to last night's finally final (no, this time we mean it, really) figures, there are 1,910,965 million valid signatures and 1,192,914 we might call "in-doubt." The opposition needs 2,436,083 million to call a referendum, meaning that 525,118 of the 1,192,914 in-doubt signatures would need to be repaired. That's 44% of the in-doubts. What, Greg, do you think is the most accurate method for determining whether more or fewer than 44% of the in-doubt signatures are, in fact, valid? (Here I'm asking Greg the sociologist, not Greg the pundit.)

Now, JR says with great scorn that the opposition, in the context of the reparo negotia...pardon, conversations, suggested testing a random sample of 170 signatures. "Out of a universe of 3 million!"

According to this handy Margin-of-Error calculator from the American Research Group (a well respected US polling firm), a sample-size of 170 for a population size of 1.19 million gives a margin of error (at the usual 95% confidence interval) of 7.52%. Is that a lot or a little?

It depends. If 70% of the sample had been found to have signed properly, a 7.52% margin of error is perfectly okay - because the opposition only needs to show 44% of the signatures are valid. Similarly, if only 30% of the sample had been found to have signed properly, then a 7.5% margin of error would still be fine. It's only if the sample-mean had been found to be between 36% and 52% that you have some real indeterminacy. Even then, the exercise would have been worth it, because it would've given you a far better sense of the scale of the problem than we now have.

But JR doesn't like that small sample size. OK, no problem, follow Carter Center and use a sample size of 1200. The ARG Margin-of-Error calculator says at that point you'll have a 2.8% margin of error at the 95% confidence level. So, if you did it this way, you would only have a problem if the sample mean is between 41 and 47%. A risk, sure, but one with the upside of yielding results that are a-scientifically valid, b-very difficult for either side to dismiss as partisan, c-quick, d-cheap, e-consensual, f-legal and g-fair.

Now, I'm honestly looking for your help here. I've been trying, hard, for months, to try to reconcile JR's refusal to go for a sampling methodology with the multiple personal references I have vouching for his fool-proof integrity. Try as I might, I can't do it.

I can't think of any coherent argument to suggest that a positive reparos process, where you try to drag out all 1.19 million of the questioned signers to sign again, would yield a more accurate picture of how many people really signed than a scientific sample of questioned signatures. It's quite obvious that there's far greater potential for error in the reparos process, compounded by the fact that a positive reparos process can ONLY undercount the signers, and made even worse by the near-certainty of government pressure to dissuade people from repairing (cf. Roger Capella's infamous "terrorists and conspirators" statement.)

Moreover, a reparos process has no built in mechanism to estimate its own propensity-to-error - there is no handy, internet based margin of error calculator for a reparos process. So say you did hold one, and say only 400,000 people go to repair their signatures. You have no way of knowing if those 400,000 are all the people who signed validly back in November, or if they're 75% of the people who signed validly back in November, or half, or whatever.

You're a sociologist, Greg, a slightly meta-post-type sociologist, but a sociologist nevertheless. Cast your mind back to your research methodology courses. Imagine your teacher faced with this problem. Imagine yourself trying to persuade him/her that a reparos process would be more accurate than a sample of the questioned signatures. Could you? Would any statistician buy JR's argument that a reparos process clears up the "margin of doubt" more effectively than sampling?

No matter how many ways I think through this one, I keep coming back to the same conclusion, a conclusion that is deeply painful to me because people I'm very close to have assured me again and again of JR's bona fides, and to lose faith in JR means losing faith in them as well. But there's really no way I can avoid the conclusion that the only imaginable circumstance where you would reject using scientific sampling is if you have something to hide.

So Greg, please, please explain to me where this chain of reasoning is going wrong. For once, I want it to be wrong. It would be far easier for me to believe I'm wrong here, far more comfortable emotionally, but I can't for the life of me see it.

Especially when I start running into stories like this:


Miami Herald:

No Chávez recall vote coming, official said



CARACAS - An executive of an Omaha firm that sold voting machines to Venezuela says a top electoral official asked him during a meeting last year whether his company worked for the CIA and predicted there would be no recall referendum against leftist President Hugo Chávez.

''There was a certain amount of paranoia,'' recalled John Groh, president of the international division of Election Systems and Software (ES&S), of the October meeting in a Manhattan hotel room.

The meeting was with Jorge Rodríguez, considered the most pro-Chávez and influential member of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council's five-person board of directors.

''I took an hour explaining to him that we were not part of the CIA, that I didn't have a military background,'' Groh told The Herald.

'We said that we understand you have an election coming up where there will be a presidential referendum, and . . . Rodríguez said, `That election will never take place,' '' Groh said.

The electoral council, with three pro-Chávez directors and two who favor the opposition, has temporarily dismissed one million of the 3 million signatures the opposition collected demanding a recall vote on Chávez.

At the time of the meeting, ES&S was seeking a $20 million contract to dust off the 7,500 ES&S Model 100 optical scanners, which read paper ballots, that the firm sold to Venezuela for the 1998 elections.

Instead, the electoral council awarded most of a $91 million contract in February to Boca Raton-based Smartmatic Corp., a tiny company whose touch-screen voting machine has never been used in an election anywhere.

''Smartmatic came out of the blue,'' Groh said in a telephone interview from Omaha. ``It's a very small, very new, storefront business that should never be considered for a project of this size.''

April 20, 2004

Greg Wilpert talks to Jorge Rodriguez

From Venezuelanalysis.com

Jorge Rodriguez is one of five principal members of the National Electoral Council (CNE). He was nominated for the post by Chavez supporters and has become one of the main spokespersons for the CNE. Rodriguez and two other CNE members questioned 876,000 presidential recall referendum petition signatures that appeared to be written with the same handwriting (when each form should have been filled out by up to ten different signers) and voted to require these and about 300,000 other invalidated  signatures to be re-certified in a so-called “repair process,” where signers can either confirm or deny that they intended to sign. When the majority of council members did this, the opposition cried foul and declared that the CNE was merely doing President Chavez’s bidding. Many in the opposition believed that re-certifying at least 600,000 signatures, so that the requisite 2.4 million valid signatures could be reached, would be practically impossible. When the opposition threatened to boycott the repair process, the CNE, with the mediation of Carter Center and OAS representatives, entered into “conversations” with the opposition, so as to see how the process could be organized so that the opposition would participate.

Last week Jorge Rodriguez announced a new electoral calendar that the National Electoral Directorate (JNE), which is responsible for elections logistics, had set. According to that calendar, the repair process for the petitions for recall referenda against legislators would take place between May 14 and May 16, while the repair process for the presidential referendum would take place between May 21 and 23. Both CNE and opposition officials said that they were close to an agreement. However, last Friday, when the CNE was supposed to announce the procedures and the final count for how many signatures were eligible for repair, the opposition rejected the procedures draft, saying that it was not what had been discussed with the CNE. The CNE retracted the draft, and announced that the final version would be announced this coming Tuesday.

Another major issue involves the rulings of two of the chambers of Venezuela’s Supreme Court. The Supreme Court consists of five chambers, each with different areas of responsibility. Opposition representatives filed court injunctions with the Electoral Chamber, in order to prevent the CNE’s application of its doubts about the validity of the forms written in similar handwriting (planillas planas). However, the Constitutional Chamber ruled that since there is no law governing the recall referenda, the referenda are an issue of constitutional interpretation and therefore belong to it. It is generally assumed that the Electoral Chamber is sympathetic to the opposition while the Constitutional Chamber has a pro-Chavez majority. Exactly how the issue is to be resolved in the courts is unclear. Some say that the issue needs a ruling by the full 20 member Supreme Court, while others say that the Constitutional Court has a final say on this issue.

Meanwhile, the country’s largest opposition party, Acción Democratica, announced that it will split for the opposition coalition, Democratic Coordinator.

The interview was conducted ion April 15, in Jorge Rodriguez’ office.

GW: How are the negotiations with the opposition proceeding?

JR: The electoral power is not negotiable. It is a public power that makes decisions that are used for facilitating the public’s political expression as is established in the constitution. The electoral power has been having conversations with the authors of the recall effort in a climate of distortions, one of which is the serious political polarization, where there are sectors that are very much in confrontation, which makes it very difficult to find consensus. The other, the presence of other non-traditional political actors, such as many of the private mass media, the radio-electronic media, have acquired a political belligerency and often direct the agenda of political actors and this complicates the ability of the council to act in a climate that is less conflictive.

From this point of view, we have had very difficult and complicated conversations with the actors of the recall, so that the repair mechanism would be a transparent and viable. We have arrived at a mechanism that complies with these criteria, which are the only requisites that are of importance to the National Electoral Council. The recall referenda belong neither to the Commando Ayacucho[1] nor to the Democratic Coordinator. Nor do they belong to the government or the opposition. What article 72 of the constitution establishes is that the referenda belong to the people of Venezuela. Also, article 31 of the recall referendum norms demands a repair period. The National Electoral Council will establish this mechanism for the citizens, listening of course to the actors of the recall, to the opposition and to the government, but basically so that the citizens can express their will and so that the electoral council is clear about this expression.

GW: So the conversations are continuing?

JR: We are at the edge of an agreement. Apparently important sectors of the Coordinator are in agreement with the proposal that the national electoral council has elaborated.

GW: How have the discussions within the electoral council been? Have they been very conflictive?

JR: No, the five members of the council have worked quite harmoniously, but there have been important differences of opinion, with regard to the conception of the internal functioning of the council, with regard to the criteria of the verification of the signatures, and the treatment of signatures with similar handwriting. This is an electoral council that has tried to establish the institutionality of the council. I think this is positive and important.

GW: You mentioned before that you and Oscar Battaglini have received death threats. How have such threats influenced your work?

JR: I think we have managed this within the context of this being the price of the office. I think the climate of extreme polarization has contributed to the unleashing of demons that are very hidden within the behavior of Venezuelans, such as intolerance, racism, attitudes of violent confrontation, when one disagrees with others, projections, when it seems that the bad is only in the other and not within oneself. Above all, and most dangerously, is an intention to undermine the institutions, that the Supreme Court, the electoral council, the legislature, lose their authority. There is a very dangerous intention behind this, which is to undermine the institutionality of the state, so that it might be replaced with instances that reply to a single interest.

GW: The opposition always says that it is Chavez who has monopolized all of the institutions of the state. Is there any type of influence that the executive exerts over the electoral power?

JR: I, at least, have not felt this. In any case, it is clear that each of the five council members has managed themselves in accordance with their own criteria. In my case, the decisions have been reached either by me alone or in consultation with the technical teams or with other council members.

I see it as something very dangerous, the intention that some political actors have to replace the national electoral council with private institutions that would fulfill regulating functions, and receive private funds.[2] That would be as if private courts were to be established that would belong to a private company and would make decisions about the imprisonment of Venezuelans. I have opposed this and will continue to do so. Any intention to undermine the electoral council will encounter my most vehement opposition.

GW: Is there anything you can say about the numbers of signatures?

JR: Yes, there are the figures that we approved on March 2nd, which say that there are 1.8 million valid signatures, 1.12 million signatures that would go to the repair process. This is what has been approved. In any case, two weeks ago we submitted our databases to the Democratic Coordinator and to the Commando Ayacucho, so that we can compare notes and determine if there are any gross or flagrant errors that we might have committed, which we will correct that before we go to the repairs.

GW: So have there been any corrections?

JR: Yes, but nothing major.

GW: A few weeks ago Francisco Carrasquero said that the OAS and Carter Center were biased. What can you say about this?

JR: I think the relation between the CNE and the Carter Center and the OAS has been very complicated, with ups and downs. I think they have collaborated with the electoral council and the council presented them with all of the facilities they wanted, something which no country in the world has done, so that they can supervise all of the processes that we organized. This is an unprecedented event. Never before have we collected signatures for a recall referendum. And, despite this, the OAS and the Carter Center have taken positions that went against some of the agreements we had reached about the signature collection. For example, when they issued their statement about the signatures with similar handwriting, they took a position that was very similar to the one of the opposition. And this went against an agreement that we had with them, which was that they would not issue any kind of public opinion without first consulting with the electoral council.

Currently, they have been helping us with the conversations with the opposition and the Commando Ayacucho that we had, so as to reach an agreement about the repair process.

GW: So the presence of the OAS and Carter Center has helped?

JR: To me it seems necessary and important and I think that one could expand the international observation for the repair process. We are exploring this now.

GW: Why is it necessary?

JR: Well, the more observers there are, the less people will feel that the observers are leaning towards one side or the other.

GW: Why did the electoral council reject the OAS and Carter Center proposal to take a statistical sample of the signatures?

JR: I was involved in the discussion with the opposition and the Carter Center and the OAS, where we discussed the proposal to take a statistical sample of the finger prints of the “planillas planas.” The opposition made a proposal at that time of sampling 170 finger prints, out of a universe of three million signatures, they proposed to evaluate 170 finger prints and signatures. Later, the OAS and Carter Center made a proposal that was less ludicrous, which included 1,200 signatures. The statistical experts we consulted said that a statistical sample had to be sufficiently large, so that the margin of error would be very small. The recall referendum petition is not an opinion poll. Every signature counts. If there are 2,436,082 signatures, there is no recall referendum. But if there are 2,436,084 signatures then a recall referendum will be convoked. We noticed that there would be a margin of error of between 5% and 10% - if it were 10% we are talking about 300,000 signatures. This could have provided us with a result that would not have allowed us to eliminate the reasonable doubts the electoral council has about the signatures. In this sense we established a mechanism that allows us to clarify the doubts.

I am convinced now that we should not have allowed so much interference of the actors in the recall process in the collection of signatures, with so few controls, which has now brought us to so many distortions, so many complexities, at the time of verification. I would have done the signature collection the same way we are now going to do the repair process: controlled by the national electoral council, with voter registration rolls, with electoral officials, and with witnesses.

GW: I recall that when the norms were first discussed, the possibility was raised that a statistical sample would be taken of the finger prints. Why was that idea originally dismissed?

JR: Yes, I was willing to discuss the idea of a statistical sample early on. The proposals that the statistical advisors of the electoral council made were so complicated, we would have needed two or three weeks to implement them. It is much faster to simply use the repair process.

GW: So how was it possible, if we assume many of the signatures with similar handwriting are fake, how could so many signatures, over 800,000, with so many witnesses, under the eyes of the National Guard, a witness from each side, two CNE officials, and international observers, be fraudulent?

JR: We never said that all of these signatures are fraudulent. We said, we don’t understand how it could be that if we told the actors in the recall process, if we publicized it in the press, if we issued instructions that say that every person should fill out, in their own handwriting, except those who had impediments to do so – which is what we said, that if that is the case, then someone may assist and a note of the assistance is made on the form. This was present in all of the instructions that the electoral council issued. The question that is often asked is Why? If they knew that it was not allowed, why did they collect up to 800,000 signatures in this way? In the process of investigating this, we noticed that in many cases it is clear that there were signatures themselves where the handwriting was very similar. We also found forms with consecutive identification numbers. For example, if my ID number is 682,483, then the next ones were 484, 485, 486, and so on. An amazing coincidence. Then there are the ones where dead people signed, which is not an easy trick, to die and then go to a signature collection location. The place where we found the most of these types of issues were in the forms with similar handwriting and in the traveling[3] forms. We did not say that we would invalidate all of these signatures, nor did we say that all of these signatures were fraudulent. That is part of the media manipulation. What we said is that this is where there is a reasonable doubt because we have found many distortions. The only way to correct for these distortions is that the electoral council certifies what the citizens truly meant to express with their signatures.

It is said that one should favor the popular will. I am in agreement with this. The popular will can be destroyed or impeded if you are so rigid that people cannot express themselves. But it can also be impeded if you are so lax that you allow a minority to derail this will.

GW: Does the CNE have any figures about how many signatures are with a similar handwriting, I mean, not just the personal data but the signatures themselves?

JR: We took some samples that provided us with evidence for such situations. We studied the fingerprints of the planillas planas and 23% of the forms with similar handwriting, versus only 8% of the other forms had what is commonly known as the fingerprint of the cheater. These are fingerprints that are made with the tip of the thumb and which cannot be analyzed. This is something that provoked doubts for us. How could this be, that the number is more than doubled? So we found these fingerprints of the tips of thumbs. That seemed very strange to me. That is, it appears to me that there was an unacceptable distortion in the signature collection process, in the registration of fingerprints and in the failure to follow the norms set by the electoral council.

GW: Why is that the requirement for each signer to fill out their own information was only in the instructions and not in the recall referendum norms? This has caused quite a bit of controversy that it was only part of the instructions.

JR: Well, that is not quite true. The norms do say that filling out the forms is something very personal (personalissimo). It’s true that there is a certain amount of controversy over this, but that’s why we’re going to the repair process. If it had not been controversial, we would have simply invalidated the signatures in question.

GW: Something else that has provoked a lot of controversy was that in the beginning of the verification process about 5% of the signatures were submitted to the technical council for further verification, but about halfway through the verification process the figure jumped to 50% and subsequently the forms with the low percentage were re-examined and sent to the technical council at the same 50% rate as the other forms.

JR: This has to do precisely with the forms with similar handwriting. That is, when the CNE realized that there were a very high number of forms with similar handwriting, the directorate considered it necessary to make a decision about these forms. So as to maintain the principle of symmetry and equality, it decided to revise all of the signatures with the same criteria.

GW: What do you think will happen? Will the opposition participate in the repair process?

JR: I am almost certain that the opposition and the Commando Ayacucho will participate in the repair process because people can participate to either exclude themselves from or include themselves in the list. But even if they do not participate, the council is obligated to hold the repair process.

GW: If the opposition does not participate, what would be the consequence?

JR: We are obligated to hold the process in any case. We have made a very hard effort to assure that they participate. The ideal situation would be that the actors of the recall process participate. We have given the opposition very many guarantees for their participation. Now, it is also true that there is much internal conflict within the opposition, which is why the conversations between the opposition and the CNE have not been that easy.

GW: Now the National Electoral Directorate has once again made a proposal for the dates of the repair process. This is not the first time. The directorate has made proposals for dates before. Are these new dates definite?

JR: Yes, the Directorate has proposed new dates for the repair process. Recall that previously the process was postponed because of the Supreme Court decisions, where the opposition had filed injunctions against the electoral council in the Electoral Chamber of the Court, which was subsequently annulled by the Constitutional Chamber and so on. During this time about three or four weeks were lost. We had said on various opportunities that the longest path to get to the presidential recall referendum is the judicial path, of the Supreme Court, which could take six or seven months.

GW: If there is no other interference from the part of the courts, are the dates that were presented recently definite?

JR: Yes. We have already elaborated a complete chronogram of activities. But this also depends on the actors, on what they do in the next few days.

GW: What else could they do to delay the process?

JR: [laughs] I have no idea. Their capacity to come up with things is amazing.

GW: Do you think that the full Supreme Court will issue a ruling on this matter?

JR: There is a firm ruling of the court’s Constitutional Chamber. It corresponds to the Constitutional Chamber. According to article 72 of the constitution, it is the Constitutional Chamber to whom recall referenda correspond. The one which has recognized all of the corresponding elements with regard to the recall referenda is the Constitutional Chamber, who named us, so that we could organize the recall referenda, was the Constitutional Chamber.

It is a fact that in the filling out of the recall referendum petition forms, no one voted. The vote comes later, if 20% of the electorate activate the referendum. As such, the Electoral Chamber should not consider a procedure that is named in the constitution and that the Constitutional Chamber must interpret. We will only abide by the sentence of the Constitutional Chamber and they have issued a firm ruling on the matter, which nullifies the sentence of the Electoral Chamber. I really doubt that the issue will go to the full court.

GW: Thank you very much for the interview.

April 19, 2004

Why is it so hard to reach Chavez's 30%?

Why those soporific speeches at the end of opposition rallies are such a bad sign...

This has been an ongoing debate in the Comments section, and it's a tough nut to crack. I don't have the answers - but I do have some idea about the questions we need to ask ourselves to come up with those answers.

The opposition tends to have a somewhat naive, 19th centuryesque notion that it's the content of a political message that matters. And of course content matters, but it's not the only thing, or even the most important thing. Chavez's credibility with "his" 30% has more to do with style, identity, and use of language than it does with content. You can see this when you see Diosdado give a speech. He says the same things Chavez says, but he says them with all of the soul ripped out. Result? Diosdado can't really fire up the crowds, or the opposition's anger.

Style is crucial. Chavez adopts a rhetorical pose (it's an illusion, I know, but it's incredibly effective) of always speaking to his audience as his notional equal. He never pulls rank, never talks down to people, never condescends. Within the construct of his speech, he builds a sense of respecting his listener, of speaking to him on his level.

This was revolutionary when Chavez started doing it in 1998, and today, astonishingly, he remains the only public figure in the country who talks this way. The reason so many people associate the opposition with the old regime, if you ask me, is that opposition politicos still use the rhetorical conventions of the old regime - and it was those conventions, as much as the corruption, mismanagement, and substantive failure of the old system that people voted against in 1998 and 2000.

Chavez talks to the poor. The opposition talks at the poor. Chavez talks like the poor. The opposition talks about the poor. Chavez takes the poor as real, living, breathing human beings. The opposition treats the poor as an abstraction, an academic problem, a set of mathematical relationships on a social indicators statistical report. Is there any doubt why Chavez connects and - so often - the opposition doesn't?

Identity: Chavez grew up poor. He knows how to tap into that fount of credibility and use it to connect emotionally with the audience. Too many opposition leaders did not grow up poor, and cannot hope to match Chavez's credibility here. (This also explains why they have such a hard time treating the poor as actual people rather than abstractions.)

Worse still, the opposition leaders who did grow up poor seem to feel ill-at-ease bringing it up or using those stories politically. Quite unlike a John Edwards or even a Bill Clinton, they seem to have no idea how to "give legs" to their life stories. Ever listen to Horacio Medina describe his upbringing as a kid of conserje in Caracas? From a more rhetorically skillful politician, the line could be devastating. From a bashful, shifty-eyed Medina, it's thoroughly forgettable.

Language, I'll get in trouble with Cardinale for saying this, but the opposition further alienates itself from Chavez's 30% through its choice of words. Unlike in English, where simplicity and economy are considered the cardinal virtues of usage, in Spanish linguistic virtuosity demands that you use lots of big fancy words. Strunk and White's famous stricture to "omit needless words" makes no sense at all in the context of Spanish - something that took me years to learn when I edited VenEconomy.

Chavez is a lexical rebel in this regard. He talks as though he had read Strunk and White. His speeches may be unbearably long, but they are not verbose. He shuns long words, shuns any word not likely to be understood in a barrio, and if he's forced to use a fancy word, he takes the time to explain its meaning patiently to the audience. Chavez goes far out of his way to make sure his message is not just understood, but understandable.

The opposition has failed miserably to learn from Chavez in this realm. Opposition speeches are still full of bodrios inefables and people manteniendo la sinderesis and denunciations of contumacia and the abdicacion de las obligaciones deontologicas of the regime, all, of course, in the name of helping los mas necesitados. It's funny, but even the formulation opposition politicos use to define the poor - "los mas necesitados" - is itself oddly circumloquitous and probably not that understandable to los mas necesitados themselves.

The problem is not to come up with a new political program. The problem is to come up with a new discourse, a new way of facilitating political communication between people. To my mind, the opposition should get over its shyness and just copy Chavez's method. You can't argue with success! The opposition has no reason to be ashamed of immitating a superior strategy - just ask Bill Clinton and Tony Blair how effectively a political discourse can be borrowed once it's been developed.

Many will read this and be horrified by the notion. "Eternalizing chavista-style rhetoric in the political sphere? Ni locos!" It's an understandable reaction, part of an overall, virulent rejection of the craziness of the chavista project. But it's counterproductive. The opposition needs to learn the lesson of 1998, a lesson it still hasn't learned: you cannot hope to mobilize the masses with a discourse understandable only to the elite, you cannot hope to win if you continue to exclude millions of people from political participation by raising the lexical bar of participation so high that millions of people cannot meet it. You can't convince someone who can't understand the words you use!

Undoubtedly there are many in the opposition who were more than happy with the cozy control over political life they could maintain so long as only they and their college-educated peers could understand the stories in El Universal and only that social class was even able to discuss the affairs of the nation. That era is over, finished, buried for good. That's not a bad thing, that's a good thing. Politics means, and will mean, something much broader in Venezuela from here on out, simply because through his rhetoric, Chavez has opened the doors of the political realm to any number of people who were informally (but decisively) excluded from it in the past.

These are the new realities of political communications in Venezuela. The opposition had better adapt to them, accept them, and embrace them, because it can't roll them back.