October 14, 2005

Cheating Incomprehensibly

I do understand that eyes glaze over en masse when you turn to the subject of twin party slates as applied to mixed proportional representation/single member constituency voting systems...but hey, it's not my fault. It's the government that chose this particularly exotic mechanism to manipulate the vote on Dec. 4th.

Trying not to get technical, I'll just say that the "Twins" - Las Morochas - are a pretty dubious mechanism that allows the largest single party to greatly increase the number of seats it gets in parliament under our current, complicated voting system. The method seems plainly unconstitutional, since it's designed to circumvent the constitutional guarantee of proportional representation. But this hasn't stopped CNE from allowing the government to use it, or the opposition from defensively retaliating by coming up with a "Twin slate" of its own.

Well, the Supreme Tribunal has agreed to hear a case on the constitutionality of the twins. CNE says if the Twins are ruled unconstitutional, the election will have to be delayed. We'll have to see...

October 13, 2005

Media Law Dynamics

Steven Dudley has this to write in today's Miami Herald about the self-censorship dynamic at play since the Media Law came into effect:

Every time journalist Ana Karina Villalba enters a Radio Mágica studio to do her afternoon show, she sits in front of a photocopy of the many provisions of Venezuela's new media law. Whenever a guest says anything that may be interpreted as inciting violence or has sexual content, she reminds the guest of the law and its sanctions. And every time that happens, her boss reminds her that the station could be shut down.

No one has been thrown in jail or fined yet because of the 10-month-old law. But it has clearly forced the media to censor itself, especially when reporting on controversial President Hugo Chávez and his socialist policies.

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Twenty guys with BIG GUNS storm into your apartment one night. They say they're from the Prosecutor General's Office. They're looking for materials relating to [radical oppo lawyer and RR-fraud-conspiracy-theorist-in-chief] Tulio Alvarez's "terrorist activities." You explain to them, as calmly as you can, that Mr. Alvarez's parents-in-law did used to live there, but sold the apartment to you years ago. Oh. Erm. Rats. They leave, a bit embarrassed. The next day, the prosecutors' office says it has no idea who the 20 guys were.

October 12, 2005

The Three Armed Forces

Yesterday's front page editorial in Tal Cual describes the alarming design of the new Armed Forces Law. This new LOFAN creates whole new military organizations and places them under Chavez's direct operational command, not under the traditional military chain of command. Teodoro Petkoff, who has always been a big skeptic about "cubanization" claims, seems to be catching up with new realities. I'll translate...

As set out in the new Armed Forces Law, the National Reserve is completely independent of the military hierarchy; it's a parallel force alongside the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard. Unlike them, the National Reserve is in no way under the Defense Ministry's control. [Notice the shades of Garrido here -ft]

This radically alters the traditional doctrine of the Reserve. The raison d'etre for a Reserve was to provide back up manpower for the Armed Services in a hypothetical armed conflict, according to each service's specific needs. Previously, each service (Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard) had its own Reserve Command in charge of training its own reserve batallions.

For instance, in the old scheme, if a tank driver (Army) was struck, he was replaced with a similarly trained reserve soldier coming from and trained by the Army. How will it work from now on? Will the National Reserve have its own armored divisions, its own infantry, navy, air force and national guard? If so, we will have a parallel Armed Forces - which, incidentally, is supposed to have far greater manpower than the four traditional armed services, according to Chavez's speeches.

We can only conclude that the National Reserve and the Territorial Guard were designed for purposes other than those for traditional Reserves. The duties assigned to the General Command of the Reserve and to its Commander include "bringing trained replacements to active units and Reserve Units engaged in combat operations" (though, as we pointed out, its very unclear how that will work) to taking part in operations to "maintain internal order."

And this seems to be the nub of the matter. If, one day, the National Guard is unable to cope with a situation, and the army is also overrun, we'll have a third organization (The National Reserve and Territorial Guard) involved in this sensitive task.

Given the very low likelihood of a foreign conflict, what has been created is an organization for internal repression, now directly commanded by the Commander in Chief/President.

What the new Armed Forces Law designs is a Pretorian Guard, not an Armed Force "at the exclusive service of the nation and under no circumstances at the service of any person or political faction," as written in article 328 of a Constiutition that, by now, reads like a subversive manifesto, so opposed is its letter and spirit to the government's conduct.

October 11, 2005

Chávez FAQ

Under Reconsideration

The Trouble with Juan Forero

In today's New York Times we see a story by Juan Forero on Chavez's growing rhetorical anti-Americanism. It's heartening to read a story in a major US paper that questions the ulterior motives for Chavez's always-popular BushWhackery. Unfortunately, the piece fails to connect some pretty obvious dots.

Juan notices the obvious parallels between Chavez' and Fidel's rhetoric. But he doesn't push it. He doesn't mention the 49 signed agreements between the two countries or Chavez's repeated expressions of fawning, drooling admiration for Fidel, so he doesn't note the possibility that Chavez's talk is part of his push to "fuse" the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions.

An outsider reading the piece could be excused for thinking it's just a funny coincidence how Chavez and Fidel seem to agree on what a bad guy Bush is. Coordination? Collusion? No signs of it here!

More annoyingly, and related to his failure to connect the Caracas-Havana dots, Juan entirely glosses over the little matter of the creepy "Reserva" created by the new Armed Forces Law. He doesn't explain how gringophobia is being used to justify the arming and paramilitary organization of chavista civilians. And since he fails to do that, it's not surprising the he entirely glosses over opposition fears that the reserva will, in time, be used to repress internal dissent - again along the Cuban "Comite de Defensa de La Revolucion" pattern, where ostensibly anti-invasion groups become, in practice, instruments of dictatorial control.

Which is the usual problem with Forero's reporting. He's not usually wrong, but he fails to tease out the (to us) obvious implications of the news he reports. He still seems to roll his eyes when the opposition talks about cubanization - even as Chavez makes it a more and more explicit plank. Forero gives you the flour, the eggs, the milk, and the sugar...but he never gives you the cake.

October 10, 2005

The No-BS Nuclear Option

Not to get too Robertsonian about this, but Alberto Garrido's interview got me thinking. As Garrido points out, Chavez's whole strategy is predicated on the hypothesis that the US will invade Venezuela sooner or later. Antichavistas usually see the asymetrical warfare stuff as a paranoid delusion, or as a government smoke-screen to justify setting up a repressive paramilitary aparatus to counter dissent.

But what if we borrow a page from Garrido and actually take the guy seriously?

Well, first we have to recognize that, under current geopolitical circumstances, with an overstretched US military struggling in Iraq and US defense strategists focusing narrowly on North Korea and Iran, the chances of an invasion in the short term are nil. Chavez the Military Man probably understands that, even if Chavez the Demagogue wouldn't say it.

So if he earnestly believes there will be an invasion, it seems reasonable to infer that he is planning to change the geopolitical equation somehow. To change it in some drastic way that would take a US invasion from the realm of paranoid fantasy to that of real possibility.

What could possibly get the Pentagon's panties up into such a frightful bunch that they would actually consider invading?

Well, you tell me.

Here are a few hints: over the last few months and days, one of Chavez's top tier intellectual advisors has gone on the record arguing Venezuela should develop nuclear weapons. We've seen a bid from Venezuela to buy a nuclear reactor from Argentina. We've seen Venezuela take a lone stand in favor of Iran's nuclear program at the recently enNobeled IAEA. Even more ominously, we've seen Chavez cozying up to North Korea, complete with language about launching commercial relations.

Now, what is the ONE and ONLY thing North Korea has to sell that Venezuela might like to buy?

Give up?

Listening to Chavez, Garrido Style

Alberto Garrido occupies a peculiar space in the universe of Venezuelan oppo punditry. While most antichavista hacks (including, I'm afraid, your truly) tend to just run their mouth about whichever Chavez outrage last caught their eye, Garrido has carved out an analytical niche by carefully scrutinizing Chavez's actual words, both now and in the past, and - novelty of novelties - taking the guy at his word.

Perhaps because he gives Chavez what he seems to crave most - detailed attention - Chavez actually praised him this year as the most objective oppo writer...which is VERY CREEPY given that Garrido has, for years, been one of the most consistent voices claiming that Chavez wants to implement what amounts to a dictatorship.

He's been ridiculed for implying that everything Chavez does has been planned out years in advance (Chavez hatched the plan to expropriate Polar when he was in kindergarten! He's wanted to change the name of the country since he was in the womb!) but the fact is the guy's been right so often - and the rest of oppo hackistry has screwed up so often - that I for one am ready to spend a Sunday evening translating the interview he just gave to El Nuevo Herald's Casto Ocando.

[This being the Sunday Supplement, I'll give myself permission to write (or rather, translate) a bit longer this time...]

Casto Ocando: How would you define this moment in Venezuela's revolutionary process?
Alberto Garrido: It's a moment of historic change because Venezuela, barring the unforeseen, is becoming the second Latin American revolution, after Cuba. And we're witnessing a merger of revolutions between Cuba and Venezuela, which president Chavez has pointed to repeatedly.

CO: What makes you think we're facing a real revolution, rather than a series of acts that often seem incoherent?
AG: They're not incoherent. Rather, we're in a transition. Because you have to remember that Chavez gained power through the ballot box, not through armed struggle. He can't simply replace the old regime, like Fidel did, like the Chinese and Russian revolutions did. So he started out governing in the straitjacket of the rule of law within representative democracy. And yet, he has very resolutely followed a strategy set out years before in the so-called Valencia Assembly of MBR-200 (Chavez's original party), which had decided to accept elections as a tactic for taking power within representative democracy in order to replace it.

CO: Is Chavez replacing democratic institutions for revolutionary ones?
AG: We should be very clear on the definition of democracy. In 2001, at the Quebec Summit, Venezuela refused to sign a declaration backing representative democracies. We're seeing a plan hatched from within the state to create a parallel, revolutionary state.

CO: Which are those parallel institutions?
AG: Well, we used to have a separation of autonomous powers, in the style of representative democracy. By now Chavez, who knows perfectly well that revolutions are hegemonic and not pluralistic, has very skillfully, almost following the Fujimorista playbook for controling institutions, managed to tilt the public powers in order to place them at the service of the revolution.

CO: Don't you think that rather than Fujimori, he's following the Cuban experience?
AG: No, because as Fidel said a few days ago, "we don't believe in democracies or in elections." In Chavez's case, elections are legitimizing instruments. Fidel doesn't need elections for legitimacy. He's the revolutionary boss and that's that. On the other hand, electoral legitimation has been fundamental for Chavez, because it's his protective armor vis-a-vis the rest of the world.

CO: That explains chavismo's control over the electoral institutions?
AG: Not just the electoral institutions which, as we all know, have always been the product of a political discussion.

CO: But now it's entirely dominated by chavismo.
AG: I think Chavez already announced that the Assembly, which will change in December, will have over 80% of revolutionary members. Not long ago, the chairman of the Assembly, Nicolas Maduro, already said the next Assembly will legislate to establish the bases of socialism. It's a process towards socialism.

From the Venezuelan left, Chavez is often attacked by those who say there hasn't been any revolution, and they forget that Chavez has recognized that there is no revolution. What there is is a revolutionary process, there are a series of changes tending towards a revolution that hasn't happened yet, and that's expected to unfold over a given period of time which could extend to two decades including the so-called consolidation period.

CO: Which elements of the Cuban system is Chavez successfully applying in Venezuela?
AG: There are 49 signed agreements, which cover practically all areas of national life. The most important are in health, education and literacy. There are growing high-level military links.

There's always a lot of deafness regarding what Chavez says, and we need to listen to Chavez closely, because whatever he says, he does. Chavez has said that the revolutionary processes of Cuba and Venezuela, more than towards integration, are marching towards fusion. We're talking about a revolutionary merger.

CO: Does this transitional process involve also a greater police control and greater state security in Venezuela?
AG: It's like this. A new Framework Law for the Armed Forces (LOPAN) has just been approved. In the LOPAN they talk about six components. You have the four classical components of a regular military: Army, Air Force, Navy and National Guard. They add the reserves. But moreover, they add the Territorial Guard, with resistance duties. Because the entire civilian-military structure is organized around a war hypothesis, which Chavez has defined as Asymmetrical Warfare.

CO: That is, resistance against a possible invasion.
AG: There is a new defense doctrine in place. An army General, Isaias Baduel, has formulated for hypotheses for possible wars. One: a growth in the border conflict with Colombia. Two: the possibility of a multilateral intervension under a UN or OAS mandate, which I see as very unlikely. Three: a coup d'etat. Four: the possible US invasion of Venezuela.

CO: There are reports of discontent within the armed forces
AG: That may be so, but the problem is that restricting the analysis to the inner workings of the Armed Forces is a major mistake today. The process is horizontal accross the civilian-military divide, and it grows day by day. We're not just facing a single regular force, which would be the traditional framework. We're facing a horizontal force, where we find parallels with the Cuban framework. In Cuba they call it the Guerra de Todo el Pueblo; in Venezuela they call it Defensa Integral de la Nacion.

CO: How far are people to follow Chavez blindly in all of this?
It's impossible to say for a single reason: there's a numerically significant opposition to Chavez. That opposition has no leadership, it doesn't feel represented by those leaders who constantly show up in the media. For me, the most important opposition Chavez faces today is inside his own organization.

CO: Fidel Castro managed to discipline his followers even through the use of terror. What about the proverbial indiscipline of Venezuelans when it comes to following a party line?
AG: There have been many warnings, from Chavez and his main political operatives such as Deputy Willian Lara, asking for reasonableness in internal dissent. That dissent is not an antichavista dissent, it's an internal dissent against the management of the process by the chavista government.

CO: There are those who say that the revolution will last as long as the money.
AG: Was there money in the Soviet Union? In China? Is there money in Cuba? Did they have money in Nicaragua? No!

In fact, just the opposite. The excess of money has really hurt the central factor in the process, which is ideological and moral. Because if Chavez himself recognizes that there is corruption in his government, that corruption is there because there's an overflow of money. The cabinet keeps tossing around trillions and trillions of bolivars, but you never see facts on the ground that reflect the supposed investment. So Chavez will need to distance itself from that whole corrupt sector that surrounds him if he really wants to push forward a revolution with clear ideological content.

CO: What factors could do Chavez in?
I don't know if it makes sense to talk about "doing Chavez in", because the process has advanced so far that, with or without Chavez, we're going to see some events not just in Venezuela but in other parts of Latin America.

CO: You seem to see the revolutionary process with optimism.
I don't know what optimism means. In Venezuela we need to be realistic, you can't be either pessimistic nor optimistic. Of course, we will have a crisis. We still haven't seen an explosive crisis, and we will see that in the not too distant future.

CO: Will Chavez lose power through the ballot box?
Representative alternation is not foreseen in a radical revolutionary system such as the one Chavez is putting forward. One of the central slogans is "there is no turning back from revolution." Chavez keeps saying he'll be around until 2030.