November 5, 2005

Global Voices Online

Thanks to TrackBack, I discovered Global Voices Online, a unique, very cool roundup of news-oriented blogs from all over the world.

November 4, 2005

Ibéyise Transformed

As longtime readers know, Ibéyise Pacheco is no saint of my devotion. That said, her article in today's El Nacional really struck me as remarkable. A former hyperradical come-candela Oppositionist, Ibéyise decided to run for a National Assembly seat, and it looks like the experience of campaigning has rocked her.

Never in a million years did I imagine I would find myself translating an Ibéyise column, but today she injects a badly needed note of realism to the increasingly vicious Opposition debate about whether to pull out of the Dec. 4th parliamentary elections to protest the chavista-dominated CNE.

I'll translate the gist of it...

Canibalism at home
I know it isn't pleasent, but lets imagine for just a second how satisfied Chavez must be at the spectacle of Opposition canibalism that has been unfolding in the media over the last few weeks.

The latest fashion seems to be to insult my dear and respected colleague and friend Isa Dobles (another hyperoppositionist journalist turned candidate to the AN.) What is it that they have against women?

That's how things stand: we're serving up a ridiculous, puerile show that overshadows the possible, needed and healthy debate between those who propose going to elections and those who favor abstention. It's so petty - and at the same time so destructive - all of this! As though it wasn't legitimate to disagree. As though we hadn't been protesting all along against an attempt to control our thinking, our ideas.

It really pains me. It's disappointing that we can't sit down to debate without insults, without aggressions, without personal attacks. That we aren't able to act differently than Chavez, or Jose Vicente Rangel.

I write this because my experience over the last few weeks, campaigning in the Miranda Highlands where I am running for a seat in the National Assembly, has surrounded me with information and sensations which besides being interesting, have touched me, and which transcend this idiocy, this dire idiocy, which we have been exposing to public opinion.

People are really hurting out there.

I've seen humiliated displaced people, desperate unemployed people, hunger, I say it again, hunger. People eating out of garbage cans, boys and girls turning to prostitution just to survive, drugs, and a crime wave you can feel because the government will let anyone who dons a red shirt do anything at all.

But the poor - many of whom do not support the government but keep quiet because they're scared - just laugh at the middle class debate about whether to vote or not. They just consider it puerile, frivolous. "They got depressed, and now they say they're pissed off and they won't vote," they say with scorn.

These poverty-stricken people, whether chavistas or not, see things from a very different point of view. They see it from an angle that has been forgotten by many of us who have engaged in this valid and courageous struggle, but have ended up talking in front of the mirror, treating the poor once again like alien beings that Chavez takes advantage of through his populism and his lies. Well, he will continue to do so, until we grow up.

The other lament
The middle class has gone through a lot of pain. The question is whether we'll remain stuck in that pain. In a lament that becomes resignation. That's what I always say to people confused by the different points of view in the public arena today. The only way out of this mess is through the ballot box, and that does not deny a place for struggle in the streets.

I can say it with a clear concience because nobody can say (odious though it may be to point it out) that I haven't worked flat out and consistently to battle against the excesses of this regime, against all the attempts to nullify us as citizens, to disappear our dreams, to rip the country away from us, to destroy our freedom. It's just that, alongside all that, the regime also works to demobilize us completely, to paralize us vis-a-vis any electoral option. Might it not be that they are scared of our participation?

The piece is long, and hard to translate, but this gives you a flavor.

What I find remarkable is the effect that going out and actually campaigning has had on Ibéyise. The mother of all comecandelas suddenly realizes that the second you pop your head outside the Eastern Caracas-centered, middle-class dominated debate that stands in for political life in the anti-Chavez press, you find a whole different country out there, one where the debate on whether to participate in elections or not looks worse than meaningless, it looks ridiculous.

If more opposition politicians took the trouble to do what Ibéyise has been doing, if they would take a break from grandstanding and go out to meet the people they aspire to lead, they would realize what Ibéyise has been realizing, and what Roberto Smith has been saying all along. They would grasp how grotesquely out of context the debate on Article 350 really is. And they would realize that the poor are itching for an option, a real option, a credible option, to Chavez's lunacy.

November 3, 2005

Reading guide for beginners

I'm still working to make the Blog more newbie-friendly.

I thought an annotated reading list would be helpful to beginners, so I put together this Reader's Guide to Venezuela in the Chavez Era.

It's a work in progress. I'm eager for suggestions for expanding it.

November 2, 2005

Chavez for beginners...

I've decided to add a few pages to the site specifically geared at people who don't know much about Venezuela and want a quick explanation of what's happening. First off, I'm writing a Chavez FAQ

Chavez spooked

At first, it seemed like just another of Chavez's folkloric eccentricities. On Sunday, he valiantly faced down the latest imperialist threat from the USA: Halloween. Calling it a "game of terror", Chavez denounced the gringo tradition of dressing kids up like ghosts and witches to extort candy from neighbors.

The Associated Press wrote it up, and the story got picked up by newspapers around the world. I guess editors in South Africa, Pakistan, and Vietnam ran with it because it's the kind of delightfully absurd little "color piece" that can usefully plug a hole in the inside pages of the international section. A bit of magical more...right?

No, not right. Within hours of the speech, Internal Security Police (DISIP) agents were arresting a group of Primero Justicia activists for putting up anti-government posters with Halloween themes. Three of the activists had to spend the night in jail, while the other four were cited to later court dates to face charges of "inciting hatred."

[You can see some pictures of the entirely benign posters here.]

The message is not hard to grasp: Chavez's eccentric little outbursts are not cute. They long ago stopped being funny. With every state institution under his thumb and public officials competing to suck up to him, they have real consequences. Of course, the foreign papers that jumped on the Wacky-Chavez story notably failed to jump on the Authoritarian-Chavez story. "That zany Chavez guy!" their readers will think...having no clue that, in Venezuela these days, the guy's outbursts, however silly, will land you in jail.

November 1, 2005

Venezuela Understood

Thanks to GP (writing in Daniel's Blog) for pointing me to two outstanding pieces by Alma Guillermoprieto published recently in The New York Review of Books. They are here and here

I often dispair at foreign writers' inability to write lucidly and non-propagandistically about Venezuela. The vast majority just pick up one party line or the other and run with it. It takes a rare talent to cut through the layers and layers of BS and get to something genuinely fair, balanced and insightful. Add to this a sleek prose style, an amazing ability to summarize vast amounts of background information and a principled refusal to dumb down the story, and you get...Alma Guillermoprieto.

Really worth a read.

I'll reproduce a key section from her first piece:

It is too soon to judge how well the many ambitious social welfare and education programs launched by Chávez —they are known as misiones—have succeeded in redressing Venezuela's deep inequalities, but they suffer already from an essential flaw: as with everything else Chávez creates, their existence depends on him. This would seem to be a reflection of the President's apparent sense that everything that happens, that has happened—in Venezuela, and in this hemisphere as well—in some way relates to him. At a meeting with Uruguayan investors last July he noted that their national independence day was approaching. What a coincidence, he noted: in July also—on July 26, 1953—Fidel led his assault on the Moncada barracks. And on another July 26—in 1952—Evita, Evita Perón, died. "And just two days later," he said, "on July 28th [1954], I was born! Imagine!" There is the melodramatic flair, the flamboyant clothes, the generic love for the poor and the authoritarianism: one could actually think that he is Evita reincarnate, and Perón, too, if it weren't for the fact that Perón died rather late (1975) for a proper transmigration of souls to take place.

Such are the hallucinatory terms in which one can easily find oneself discussing the state of Venezuelan politics. In Caracas today it often seems as if there were no issues, only bilious anger or unconditional devotion—or gasping bafflement—all provoked by the President, who takes up so much oxygen that there is no breathing room left for a discussion of, say, the merits of his neighborhood health policy, his relations with Cuba, or whether the chronically overflowing currency reserves should be used merely to guarantee the rate of exchange or to finance, as Chávez has, the multiplying misiones. How can one reasonably discuss whether the upper management of the oil company was involved in plotting a coup when the President is busy firing seven of those managers on Aló Presidente, saying "You're out!" and giving a blast of an umpire's whistle? And how can an interviewer, in this case Jorge Gestoso of CNN en Español, possibly discuss the merits of such an approach with Chávez when Gestoso must begin by insisting to Chávez that this event actually did take place?[5] The official use of lies, the opposition's terrified rantings, the abandonment of civility by the press and television take place outside the realm of politics, and do away with reason.

The problem is that all of this defies description, one observer has written:

...That is why the critics are so totally at a loss; they don't know what the weak flank of chavista politics is because it is an unheard of combination of little-known things, with a totally new result. The populist element, the good-ole-boy element, the martial spirit, the willfulness, the Bolivarian delirium, the economic pragmatism, and the monarchic arbitrariness are known, along with the authoritarianism of the old [Caudillista] compadre. None of this is new, but the combination of it all (to which must be added his luck, of which he has too much) is what is incomprehensible.

Thus, in a convoluted, sometimes brilliant journal, the columnist Colette Capriles, who writes as if she had spent much of the last few years lying on her sofa in a state of mild depression, watching events unfold on the television screen.

Even after a visit of only a few weeks, one can start to feel claustrophobic in Venezuela, as if the people there were all living inside Chávez's head, with some making small squealing noises as they try to get out. But the President has no visible worries: the various misiones—in favor of ethnic culture, literacy, college equivalency, medical care in the barrios, in defense of street children—are thriving, in no small part because there are tens of thousands of highly skilled Cubans who have been assigned by Fidel to staff them, and also because they are lavishly financed—in ways the health and education ministries could benefit from. Who knows, Chávez says, he might even remain in power through the year 2024, or even 2030.

October 31, 2005

October 30, 2005

Opinion Duel, Day Three

My reply to Gustavo Coronel is here.

Sunday Roundup: Compare and Contrast

The Washington Post runs a tough editorial today (free registration required) on the intimidation of Venezuelan Human Rights Organizations under Chavez. Key paragraph:
One conspicuous victim of this phenomenon is Carlos Ayala, who testified before the commission about the growing threat to journalists and press freedom. One of the most respected human rights lawyers in Latin America, Mr. Ayala is a former president of the Inter-American Commission as well as the Andean Commission of Jurists. When dissident military leaders tried to stage a coup against Mr. Chavez in April 2002, Mr. Ayala not only denounced the plot, which eventually failed, but intervened with police to free a militant pro-Chavez legislator. Yet, last April, after he brought human rights cases against the Chavez government, prosecutors announced that they had opened a criminal investigation against Mr. Ayala for allegedly supporting the coup. Charges are still pending.

Meanwhile, the New York Times runs a particularly sycophantic piece even by Juan Forero's standards (Registration also required.) Check out the creepy mural, though. Key paragraph:
In the tumbledown barrios where Mr. Chávez draws much of his support, it is easy to see why the new system has been warmly welcomed. The hills around Caracas and the farms in the outback are filled with cooperatives and other businesses in which the state plays an important role. Workers produce everything from shoes to corn.


ps: I'm still working on my Venezuela Opinion Duel counter-rebuttal...