December 2, 2006

An update from pollsters

Katy says: Inside sources confirm that the latest private DATOS poll puts Chavez's margin at 11 percentage points, down from 22 or so. Seijas also puts Chavez's margin at somewhere between 9 and 13 points. Both pollsters are more optimistic about Rosales's chances.

The dreaded predictions thread

Quico says: For reasons I can't understand, the formatting goes all out of whack when I post a web poll. Please scroll down to register your predictions for tomorrow.

Predictions: CNE's results will show...

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CNE results will...

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Chavismo as Eschatology

JayDee says: I've seen Chavez speak in person twice in the last few weeks. Both times, he had his audiences eating out of his hand, weak-kneed in the thrall of his charisma. What's disconcerting, though, is that the first time, he was dealing with revolutionary students - the second, with foreign journalists.

The first speech was a few weeks back at the Teresa Careño - Caracas' flagship theater. Arriving there I saw hundreds of students clad in red, chanting in unison, waiting for El Presidente. There was something creepy about the energy in that hall. The scariest thing was the chants, though. My favorite? El que no salta es un yanqui! He who is not screaming is a yankee! Shudder.

This went on and on and on unabated, with boundless enthusiasm, for the full hour and a half we waited for the event to start.

The scene reeked of group think. You saw men and women turned into cogs of an ideological machine, chanting repetitive, empty, meaningless slogans again and again and again. To think these are the folks celebrating higher education!

Suddenly Chavez turns up, dressed in loafers, casual slacks, and, of course, a red shirt. The crowd goes batshit insane when it sees him. I lean over to a fellow journo and ask if he thinks the man will open with "Satisfaction" or save it for the final encore.

He gets to talking:
We are here to fight against imperialism, to defend el pueblo, that is why we celebrate education.

One day Bolivar, having seen his dream of a unified America shattered, said: Our hour hasn't arrived. Well, today it has. This is the hour of el Pueblo, of Simon Bolivar, Socialism, Christianity, the Bolivarian Republic.

The imperialist corporations are trying to steal our wealth. So, we have to study, to know our history better, to know how to defend ourselves.

There are two worlds. One of capitalism, of man for man, of exclusion. And ours, where humanity and Christianity rule. We are here to celebrate your training for carrying forward 21st century socialism. Today, we celebrate a new generation of students more aware, more conscious, students prepared to break the neo-liberal model. That is our collective path. We will never again go down the path of savage capitalism.

The neo-liberal plan was the 'final plan'. 1989 was the resulting revolt, but El Caracazo wasn't enough. It was just the beginning of our movement. Children, Men, Women shed there blood for a better world. And the coup of '92 was next.

And now we are posed on the verge of another historic epoch. We have consolidated the revolution in these last seven years, and the next era will stretch forward to the year of 2021, realising Simon Bolivar's dream, forever rejecting a role as a colony of the North.
It was the first time I quite grasped the way Chavez's reinterprets history, crafts it into a narrative that puts him at the center, even when he's talking about events that have nothing to do with him. El Caracazo - the outbreak of mass urban looting that took place for four days in 1989, happened three years before the man's shadow darkened the national consciousness, but you'd never guess that it listening to him: it's now been assimilated entirely into the revolutionary redemption story. As far as he's concerned, history moves in a definite direction. And the trajectory is clear: from light, to darkness, to light again.

Simon Bolivar -> Imperialism -> Caracazo -> the 1992 coup -> Chavez!

It is Francis Fukuyama turned on it's head, a sort of End of History where all the forces of history conspire (perhaps following Christ's divine will) to produce their crowning achivement: the Bolivarian revolution, the saving grace of humanity. Chavismo is the purpose of history.

The second time I saw him, Chavez waltzed into a Press Conference in Miraflores, the presidential palace, in a finely tailored dark suite and bright red tie. About 150 international and domestic journos applaud as he works his way into the room. Is that normal?

Instead of heading for his desk, Chavez takes a sharp turn and wades into the crowd of journalists. Everyone goes apeshit, crashing in on him, scratching and clawing, pushing to get in close, while photographers and cameramen scream from the back and sides, "SIT DOWN."

Security looks on nervously.

Journalists totally lose their cool around the guy, pushing and shoving each other like children.The grown, educated, professional, impartial men and women of the supposedly hard-bitten international press just about swoon around the guy.

The foreign correspondent next to me leans over and says, "I have never seen anything like this"

And people wonder about his cult like effect on the poor!

Chavez sits down in front of a portrait of Bolivar. Half his cabinet sits behind him and to his right, the other half in front and to his right. How bored must they be?!

Then his speech:
This has been a happy, jubilant, positive campaign.

Venezuela ended the 20th century as a lost Republic, a nation that had lost it's morals, it's righteous economic and social ways, lost its direction.
The audience is vastly different, but it's the same theme: Chavez as saviour.
"The country was shattered, mired in poverty and only functioning for the elite. With the exception of CUBA, Lat Am was under the boot of neo-liberalism.

Have we made mistakes errors? Yes. Have started things and not finished them? Yes. But we have brought democracy to a land where there wasn't any.
Somebody gets up and asks, "The people believe in you, but not your ministers. They say they are corrupt. Will you sack any of them?"

"In the 70's, Venezuela was like Soddom and Gomorrah." The crowd titters. "This palace was a pleasure dome, a place for business and parties."

He lectures on Carlos Andres Perez for a good 20 minutes.


One of the things we will have to assume with greater responsibility in this era is the fight against corruption. Corruption is a product of capitalism, or the desire to be rich, this is the birth of the cancer that is corruption
Next question.

He moves on, not having answered the question. Come to think of it, he never answers the question he's asked. The questioning rules are strict, and time is limited. There's no chance for a follow-up. There will be only 8 questions, and, following his intro and first answer, we are already 90 minutes into this shit.

Suddenly, I realized the game we were playing. This wasn't really a press conferences at all. Amidst this cult of personality, there's no such thing as a real press conference. Journos here are no different from the students at the Teresa Carreño. In his presence, we're reduced to being just another audience.

December 1, 2006

Podcast: Leopoldo Lopez with eyes wide open...

Quico says: Check out the the audio of parts of Leopoldo Lopez's press conference in Caracas yesterday. It's heartening to see that he's fully conscious that the government is out to provoke them, and explicitly labels the rumors going around as such.

Money quote:
The thing I find astonishing is that this is the only government that says its opposition will commit fraud. Who could believe the government? They control the CNE, they control the Supreme Tribunal, they say the Armed Forces are red, very red though we don't believe that, we think they are tricolor, they control PDVSA, they control all the ministries, the state governments and municipal governments and they go around saying that the opposition is going to steal the election!

Opposition Election Monitoring Plan

Quico says: Check out the opposition's fascist destabilization plan's instruction manual...damn coup-mongers.

November 30, 2006

Hot Audit Details

Quico says: Clearly, a large part of the opposition is still seriously concerned that the government will commit numerical fraud. Unlike in past elections, though, the audit procedure proposed seems highly robust.

Venezuela uses a controversial electronic touch-screen system. The contraption does, at least, generate a paper trail. And that paper trail will be intensively audited on the night of the election. The Elections Authorities have published an elaborate handbook for poll workers, detailing the procedure.

Keep in mind that Venezuelan polling stations ("Centros de Votacion") often include more than one voting table. The plan is to hand-count the votes from the machines in 54% of the voting tables. At least one table will be audited in each polling station, with more tables audited in larger polling stations. And how will they select which tables within a polling station? Following this procedure, which I've translated from the the Table Worker's Manual produced by CNE:
Procedure for the Audit
1) The chairs of the various voting tables shall meet at the place where table No. 1 operated, in the presence of the witnesses and of international and Venezuelan observers, if any are present, and they will proceed to select by draw the voting tables where the audit of the automated voting system will take place.

They shall write in identical pieces of paper the numbers of the voting tables that were used in that polling station, in ordinal sequence starting with the number 1.

They shall place the pieces of paper inside an envelope and shake it.

They shall extract and announce the number of the voting tables to be audited, in accordance with this table:

The key thing to note here is that if the numbers in an envelope procedure is followed, any fraud committed will be very very evident.

The opposition's job now is to make sure these rules are followed. Rosales has been very clear about this. And really there's no excuse if they still don't have people for all the key places.

Alarmingly, though, an opposition NGO is warning that the opposition has few or no witnesses at 732 voting centers in heavily chavista areas where 437,460 people vote, and also has a watchlist of about "high risk" polling stations where 1,833,033 people vote.

We're talking places like the Colegio Jose De Jesus Arocha, on the Redoma De Petare, and the Grupo Escolar Rafael Napoleon Baute at the Calle Real Del Barrio Jose Felix Rivas - both in Petare, Caracas' biggest shantytown. In the Caracas area, there are many such polling stations in poorer areas like Catia, Santa Rosalia, El Valle, Antimano, 23 de Enero, Carallaca, Guarenas and Guatire. But they are all over the country.


Podcast: Rosales as Bartlett

Quico says: Well, here's the seriously disturbing audio of part of that Rosales town hall meeting.

Rosales is, um, not a natural speaker. But it's Globo's comically inept attempt to make him seem less boring by setting his speech to some shlocky Hollywood track that really grabs your attention.

There's something really cringe-worthy about this kind of ham-fisted propagandizing. Whoever set this thing to the music must have watched a couple too many episodes of the West Wing and figured, "hell, that music will make anybody sound inspiring." Set over Rosales, it's only ludicrous.

Rosales himself is a cypher. When you read what he has to say you can see he's a bright guy. But when you hear him? Well...

The provocation begins...

Quico says: To understand the next few days, you need to understand one key fact: it's in the government's interest to bait the opposition into over-reaching.

Provocation is the name of the game. And Plan Colina the Nth is underway: Rosales's Caracas coordinator's offices are being raided by the police as I type this.

Primer on Sunday's election...

Quico says: Well, as usual, my hit-count is going berserk as Sunday's election draws near. Hello new people!

Caracas Chronicles has been around for over 4 years now, and usually caters to a hearty breed of hardcore English-speaking Venezuelan politics junkies. We'll be trying to write for a broader audience for the next few days, just for you. And yes, we'll be blogging up a storm this week, so do keep checking back.

If you need to catch up quickly but thoroughly, have a look at this excellent, scrupulously impartial primer on what's so peculiar about the presidential campaign we've seen (note: largish PDF file.)

It's a speech delivered by Pedro Nikken, on behalf of Ojo Electoral (Electoral Eye - a home-grown elections monitoring NGO) to the Washington Office on Latin America. In a highly polarized atmosphere, Nikken makes a titanic effort to rise above the fray and provide an account of what's at stake in this election that both sides can recognize.

A taste:
Why do the Venezuelan elections attract so much international attention? The technical problems are manageable and the political problems I have mentioned are present in other elections, but do not raise the same degree of concern. Venezuela is going through a process of change that sparks international curiosity when the results are positive and a certain level of alarm when they are seen as contrary to universal norms.

In particular, signs that indicate a troubling lack of respect for democratic values in the management of the state are often highlighted. The government and opposition discredit each other’s commitment to democracy. Accusations against the government flow from the opposition, which characterize it is a dictatorship or totalitarian regime, while the government generally tags the opposition as a gang of coup-mongers. The intent of each side seems not to be to defeat the other in a democratic contest, but rather to remove it entirely from the competition. Without offering my own opinion, I will mention a few of the allegations – not without some foundation – that have been made by each side to cast doubt on the opponent’s commitment to democracy...
It's longish, but I encourage you to read the whole thing. Of course, you could also look at my Archives...hours and hours of good clean fun to be had there.

Final Survey Chart

Quico says: Well, here's the final survey slide, with the latest Evans McDonough poll added:

Click to enlarge

As you can see, I've split the Surveys into two groups. Standard methodology surveys - the ones based on in-home, face-to-face interviews - and surveys using alternative methodologies.

The standard methodology surveys all give Chavez a big lead. Plenty of people in the opposition are certain that these results reflect intimidation: people can't be sure that the person polling them is who s/he claims to be. According to the argument, the government has a history of discriminating against dissidents in parceling out state benefits, and many people fear giving the wrong answer to a "pollster" which could undermine their access to state social programs, jobs, etc.

Three surveys have been carried out using three alternative methodologies meant to control for this so-called Fear Factor. Rather than a voting intentions survey, Keller does a political segmentation analysis to determine whether voters broadly agree with one side's rhetoric or the other. PS&B use a "secret ballot" methodology where survey respondents deposit their opinion in a box, without having to "come out" to the pollster, while the Observatorio Hannah Arendt (which, caveat lector, is not a recognized pollster but rather a group of academics and activists with apparent ties to the Rosales campaign) replicated the methodology used in this famous study of the 1990 Nicaraguan Election.

Personally, I think that even if the alternative methodologies are closer to the mark in terms of underlying preferences, there is no reason to believe the Fear Factor won't follow people right into the voting booth. In particular, public employees are badly exposed - how many will really "dare" when crunch time comes?

In any case, these are the polls that are out there. Do with this chart what you will.

November 29, 2006

Manuel Rosales, up close and personal

Katy says: Last night, Globovisión held a town-hall meeting with opposition candidate Manuel Rosales. It was an interesting broadcast since it allowed the candidate to get all sorts of questions from an audience that was clearly comprised of chavistas and opposition folk alike. It really should have been a debate, but Pres. Chávez refuses to debate the issues, as has been customary during his entire political career. Here are translated excerpts of what transpired:

First segment

Question 1: What happens to Mi Negra when the price of oil falls?

A: We should be positive. What is being given away to foreign countries is going to Mi Negra. 1 million Bs. would be the Mi Negra handout under the current conditions of the price of oil, Mi Negra would go down to 600 thousand if the price of oil were to fall. Nevertheless, I think the price of oil is going to remain high for quite some time.

Question 2: Why did you sign the Carmona decree?

A: This was confusing to all. The President resigned, I acted in good faith. I was not even in Caracas. I am a democrat by conviction, I have proven that by winning and losing many elections.

Question 3: What is your proposal regarding personal safety?

A: As President, this will be a priority for me and I will be held responsible, I will not ellude my responsability like the current President does, blaming his subordinates. We have to put personal safety and the protection of life as a top priority. We must re-engineer our police forces, make them professional and weed out the rotten cops. We also need 150 thousand more police officers. We will work with universities and other institutions to help form them. We will also form a National Police Corps to coordinate the fight against organized crime.

Question 4: Why do you say you will keep the Missions when you said people in Misiones were "parasites"?

A: I did not say that, I respect people and my comments were taken out of context by my opponents. Misiones are not new, they used to exist under different names: Mercal used to be Proal. Misión Robinson used to be Acude. The problem is that now they are used as tools to blackmail people. In my government, social programs will be for everyone. But also, the Venezuelan people want jobs, they want stability, they don’t want any more “burusas”, social programs should help the poorest Venezuelans but we need to create stable jobs. The other candidate, the candidate of the “trocha mocha” says that poverty is good, that it’s all good if you believe in Socialism. I don’t believe in that. People deserve a better life, they deserve the tools to take off and improve their lives.

Second segment

Question 5: What are you going to do about the jails in Venezuela?

A: There is no justice in Venezuela, and we have no jails, they are simply places where we store people. There are prisoners who have not been sentenced for years. I know of people who have been in prison for years and later are told they are innocent. I believe in the descentralization of the jail system, and I believe jails should provide training and reinsertion into society.

Question 6: What are your proposals toward the children on the streets and those that are on drugs.

A: The problem lies in the deterioration of the family. There has not been any serious attempt in Venezuela to help street children. It’s awful to see how the number of boys and girls on the street keeps growing. This is a serious issue that requires serious solutions. But the key is education, quality of life, and putting citizens before the needs of the State.

Question 7: What do you think of the fear that public employees feel with the fingerprint scanning machines being used to determine how they voted?

A: I respect public workers, and I want to give them decent salaries, both current workers and those that are retired. Our retired public employees only receive crumbs. I want to give retired public workers their Cestaticket benefits. The fingerprint machines are no good, they don’t work. They simply have to justify the money they spent on them by using them. They do not discover your vote, people can vote with their heart and their conscience knowing that nobody will ever know who they voted for. They should vote for the future, for the future of our children.

Third segment

Question 8: What guarantees do we have that mi Negra is not simply electoral “paja”?

A: We’ve been getting “paja” for a century. With Mi Negra we are going to give the Venezuelan people the money that is being given away. We want to give people the funds so that they can open their own businesses. We’ve done that in Zulia at a very small scale. Venezuelans own their wealth, and nobody gave the government permission to give that money away. It’s about social justice.

Question 9: I want to look you in the eyes. I voted for Chavez, for a change. He has changed Venezuela, taking it to a quasi-communism. How will we “charge” the votes? How do we know that when you win, you won’t feel like a “king” and that you will keep your promises?

A: I understand that many good-hearted Venezuelans voted for Chavez, for a change. I hope that people who believe they were lied to, come to us. I will govern from the street, and as President I will not lock myself up in Miraflores in air conditioning, nor will I simply travel around the world enjoying the perks of the job.

Question 10: You have not spoken clearly about what to do about corruption. What do you propose to do about that?

A: Corruption is a consequence of the example the leaders set to the people. If leaders don’t believe in justice, nothing works. The government rewards the corrupt, and shuns those that are honest. It’s pure “viveza criolla”. The message people are getting is that you have to be a “vivo”. That’s why I propose that decency will be a priority for the government from day one.

Question 11: Is the Electoral Registry OK? Will my vote count?

A: The Registry is very much improved. It is good enough for us to participate, as long as we guard the process. I have told this to the CNE many times: we will not accept a change in the rules the day of the elections, nor a change in the laws, nor any non-compliance of the law. If the audit is not done randomly, we will not accept that. If it is done before the vote count, we will not accept that. We will not accept any changes in electoral conditions.

Question 12: Why don’t you ever laugh? (public laughs, Rosales laughs)

A: Oh, I laugh. (applause for breaking the ice, says the moderator) I laugh. Candidates are told “you have to laugh this way, you have to stand this way,” and they end up disguising the candidate. When I have to talk about crime, about children in the street, about hunger, about poverty, about the possibility of having elections stolen, I can’t laugh when I discuss these things, these are serious topics. But if you ask me that, then I have to laugh.

Question 13: What would you do or say if President Chavez walked into this studio right now?

A: I would greet him, welcome him (applause), ask him to sit down and take questions. It is a right of the Venezuelan people to ask him about the results of his eight years in the government. The people need to know what he plans to do to mend his ways and mend this disaster.

Question 14: I don’t care about "red, very red", I care about education and health care. What are your guarantees about that?

A: I guarantee we will give you the tools. We have recently graduated, thanks to Zulia governorship scholarships, thousands of electricians. After a century of oil exploitation, we are not doing well. Why do our kids have to think about leaving the country? How can we exploit tourism if there are few sewers, if we pollute our beaches with sewer water?

Fourth segment

Question 15: This government has failed in terms of health care. What would you do about that?

A: The Zulia health care system is completely different. We rely on small enterprises and cooperatives. We have hospitals there with first-class technology. We have to increase funding for our hospitals. Anyone who says that health care is going to be free but does not provide the resources for that is lying. But we also have to improve our small scale neighborhood health care facilities. Cuban doctors help, but people with problems generally have to go to hospitals, and hospitals are not working.

Question 16: What do you think of the barter system that Chavez is proposing?

A: That it is backwards, we’re discussing very primitive activities here. That is how mankind began. I’m here to talk about good wages, justice, education, health care, progress. The other candidate is saying that your salary is going to be paid with coupons, goods, chickens and things like that. It really shows contempt for the intelligence of the Venezuelan voter, and it’s why people are turned off by politicians. So I hope some day you don’t pay me with a chicken and I have to pay you back with a sack of plaintains. (laughs)

Question 17: Moderator asks question: What do you say to Venezuelans who are tired of politics, those that don’t like the Fourth or the Fifth, the ni-nis?

A: That I respect them. That they are right in many ways. It’s been too many lies, too many frustrations, we’ve gone from failure to failure. But I would tell them the choice is not between candidates, but it’s the future of Venezuela itself. They have to choose between backwardness or modernity, between the future and the past for our children. It’s a proposal to get out of the dumps, so that Venezuela can be a great, beautiful country that rises from the problems it is mired in.

Moderator thanks the crowd. Applause.

Candidate's final comment: My greetings, with affection, with love, to all Venezuelans. No matter who you are going to vote for, I ask you to participate in the reconciliation of our country, so that we can build a more just, modern country, where we can redistribute our oil wealth, a country where we can all handle our differences. I want a great, modern Venezuela, where the future of our children, of our young people, who are the great reserve our country has, can be assured.

Poll Wars Chronicles

Quico says: Check out this impressive overview of the Poll Wars by Phil Gunson in the Miami Herald.
Polls offer vastly different predictions for Venezuela's presidential election Sunday.

CARACAS - With less than a week to go before Venezuela's presidential election, supporters of both President Hugo Chávez and his main rival, Manuel Rosales, are confident of victory -- thanks in part to an opinion-poll war in which the truth appears to have been the first casualty.

''I've worked a lot in elections, in different countries,'' said Carolina Bescansa, a political science professor from the Complutense University in Madrid. ``But I've never seen anything like this.''

There are polls to suit all tastes and political tendencies, ranging from those that project a Chávez victory by more than 30 points in the Sunday balloting to a dubious few that give a clear margin to Rosales, the candidate of a broad opposition coalition.

With both the pro-government and pro-opposition media stressing polls that show their favorites ahead and dismissing other surveys as lies and manipulations, neutral voters have been confused and committed voters have become convinced that only fraud can deprive their man of victory.
Read the whole thing...

Election tree update

Quico says: Actually, there are eight logical possibilities:

Care to hazard a guess how this will go?

Which scenario do you think is most likely?

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Puzzling through the Dec. 4th Scenarios

Quico says: The way I see it, the history of the next few years depends on what happens on Dec. 4th. Basically, there are 4 ways this could go:

Now, just for the sake of argument, let's look at the left side first: what happens if Chavez wins?

Well, there's clearly an irreducible core of extreme opposition supporters who are convinced the only way this can happen is fraud. The CEPS survey - for what it's worth - figures they're 7% of the electorate. That's not a huge number, but it's certainly a highly mobilized, committed and influential group.

We're talking the Poleo wing here. Their minds are made up. Whatever CNE says, whatever international observers say, whatever the hot audit says, they are sure Chavez can only win by cheating. As far as they're concerned, to concede is to collaborate.

Now, at times of heightened political tension, this segment of the opposition grows in profile and power - largely because it tends to get a lot of space in the media. Moderating voices are always put in the defensive when the Poleo branch is ascendant.

The rub, of course, is that, though loud and mobilized, they're really quite a small minority in the country as a whole. Mainstream Venezuelans are scared of them, don't see them as committed to democracy, and infer an authoritarian edge to their radicalism that's not that different from extreme chavistas'.

The government long ago figured out that when this wing of the opposition is ascendant, the opposition as a whole loses touch with mainstream opinion - both at home and abroad. When the hotheads call the shots, the opposition isolates itself in a little Globovision-centered mental ghetto brimming with frustrechera and suffused with bitter conspiracy theorizing. It makes chavismo look almost good by comparison.

So the more Machiavellian minds within chavismo (here's lookin' at ya, José Vicente) long ago realized that they have everything to gain and nothing to lose from empowering this chunk of the opposition, and long ago perfected a mechanism for doing so: provocation.

That's why, two days into the paro general in December 2002, when it looked like the protest might be running out of steam, the National Guard was sent out to bash some oppo bones in front of the cameras outside PDVSA Chuao. It was easy to foresee that this would embolden the more radical sections of the opposition, extend the strike, and aid the government's longer term goal of discrediting the overall anti-Chavez movement while purging PDVSA. Simple, clean and effective.

It's a playbook the government has run again and again. Think April 7th, 2002 - when Chavez theatrically fired those PDVSA managers, think Jorge Rodriguez demanding reparos in February 2004. Again and again, when the government calculates that the opposition might be about to over-reach, it thinks up some kind of provocation meant to propel oppo hotheads into the movement's driver's seat. Again and again, we fall into the little "Chavez los tiene locos" game.

The government's interest is to see the opposition either split or run by fanatics. So we should expect some serious casquillo in the next few days. It's easy for me to imagine situation where there are just enough electoral irregularities to send the NDroots up a wall but not quite enough to get international observers to condemn the whole exercise. If not that, it'll be some other Poleo-baiting trick.

Chavismo's goal will be to make it as politically awkward as possible for Rosales to concede.

At the very least, they'll try to engineer a situation where, if he does concede, he can't go on to lead a coherent opposition because half of his voters are sure the guy sold out. It's a very tricky situation he will face.

As JayDee put it, one of the ironies of this campaign is that we're only going to find out if Rosales is for real after the vote. It's then that we'll find out if he has the political touch it will take to stamp his authority over the anti-Chavez movement, disown the extremists, dispel the ongoing doubts among NiNis at home and people abroad about anti-Chavismo's commitment to democracy, and keep the opposition united, coherent and "governable" enough to present some kind of counterbalance to Chavez.

It's a tall order. And the governnment will work hard to raise the temperature in the hope of empowering oppo hotheads. We have to keep sight of the fact that the government's goal is to engineer a situation where, if Rosales does concede, he loses credibility with a key segment of his constituency and potentially splits the movement down the middle. Will Rosales be cunning enough to sidestep this trap?

Scenario No. 2: Rosales goes AMLO

Katy says: I'm going to follow up on Quico's post and work through the second of the four scenarios: the possibility that opposition candidate Manuel Rosales does not concede victory, and declares massive fraud.

The credibility of a move like this will depend on four main factors, as I see it. They are:
  1. The size of Chavez's lead
  2. The evidence of fraud brought forward
  3. The attitude of the CNE and the TSJ
  4. The attitude of international observers
As should be obvious, a move like this can go wrong in many different ways (ask Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or closer to home, Enrique Mendoza). Nobody likes a sore loser, so if you're going to declare the election null and demand radical action, you better have the goods to back it. That means, roughly put, that Rosales has to have the votes, the chads, the crooks and the musiús aligned.

The only way this scenario can become anything but a total disaster for the opposition is if:

  1. The CNE declares Chavez the winner by a margin of 5% or less;
  2. The Rosales camp quickly brings forth substantial and convincing evidence of fraud, hopefully stemming from the audits of the machines (government abuse prior to the election doesn't really count, since by participating in the election you are implicitly conceding that point, as much as we hate it);
  3. The CNE and the TSJ act in a blatantly partisan way and shut the door on any possibility of admission that the process was flawed; and
  4. International observers side with your concerns.
Even if these conditions are met, going AMLO is still a risky proposition. But if you don't have your ducks lined up in a row, it would be a disaster.

November 28, 2006

Compare and Contrast: Blue Venezuela vs. Red Venezuela

Quico says: Yesterday I posted on the underlying issue at stake in this election: a tricolor Venezuela, or a monochrome red one? Two different futures.

While red Venezuela has found its perfect voice in Chavez, yellow Venezuela, the one that demands spoils now and measures its status by spoils obtained, eats away away at the revolution, and blue Venezuela barely hangs on. The tragic thing is that only blue Venezuela can ultimately offer real solutions to the very serious problems our country has.

I think these are themes that come through nicely in this remarkable piece in Slate.
Crime and Class in Caracas
By Sacha Feinman

CARACAS, Venezuela—It's Friday night, and Detective Bultron Angel of the Chacao police is playing God. With 22 cameras placed in strategic locations throughout his district, Angel is capable of monitoring the human traffic of some of Venezuela's wealthiest neighborhoods. Any emergency call to PoliChacao must first pass through his dispatch center, where one of six police officers immediately traces the incoming phone number, running it through a computerized map of the district detailed enough to contain the names of every apartment building and every apartment owner.

On the other side of the city, Inspector José Bonaldi of the Libertador Police sits behind his desk in the barely furnished Office of Citizen Security. According to the United Nations, Venezuela recently passed Brazil to claim the dubious honor of having the highest rate of gun-related violence in the world among nations not at war. Much of that crime takes place in the steep and densely packed barrios that decorate the city's rolling hills, more than a few of which fall under Bonaldi's jurisdiction.

To maintain the security of his municipality, Bonaldi has a single computer, and it's currently being used by an off-duty police officer to watch a Jessica Simpson music video. Instead of a map of his district, the chipped plaster walls of Bonaldi's office are decorated by a lonely profile of Jesus Christ wearing his crown of thorns, blood dripping from his hairline, eyes turned upward in divine expectation. "He who does not love," quotes the poster, "hasn't known God; because God is love."

Lost in the media coverage of Venezuelan oil and Hugo Chávez's colorful antics is the fact that over the last decade, Caracas has become a very dangerous place to live. Colombia might have the history, and Brazil might make splashier headlines, but Venezuela has quietly eclipsed both its neighbors in levels of violent street crime. Unlike Colombia's narco-guerrillas or the heavily armed gangs in the favelas of Rio and São Paulo, crime in Caracas is indiscriminate; it has more to do with anarchy and the failure of infrastructure than it does organized, armed groups challenging the government's monopoly on the use of force.
Read the whole thing. Which set of cops would you rather have patrol your neighborhood?

Amarillita, Azulita y Rojita...

Quico says: If you ask me, the best part of Rosales' campaign was the way he set up the contrast between his "Tricolor Avalanche" rally and Chavez's "Red Tide." I'm talking about the titles here. His choice of tags mirrored his use of "For 26 millions" in contrast to Chavez's 10-million slogan: both set out to contrast a vision of inclusion and tolerance with Chavez's sectarianism.

But I think the "Tricolor Avalanche" - the name itself - was far more symbolically resonant. Why? In school, we were all taught that the yellow stripe on the flag symbolizes the riches the conquistadores sought in our land, the blue stripe our distance from and connection with Spain and European civilization, and the red the blood spilled in the brutal, fratricidal wars of independence.

Together, these three stripes encapsulate our complex and contradictory identity: our tendency to equate wealth with worth, our simultaneous connection-to and alienation-from European modes of thinking, and our usually latent but always present wild-side, with its rejection of all civilized values and its glorification of savagery for its own sake.

These three intertwined (if contradictory) strands, brilliantly described in J.M. Briceño Guerrero's writing, make up the deep core of our culture. Their coexistence and permanent tension is what makes us unique, what makes us us.

Rosales, in embracing the Tricolor in explicit contrast to Chavez's monochromal obsession, draws attention to the way chavismo seeks to dismember our identity, to blow it apart by subjugating the yellow and the blue strands, burying them, and recasting our identity through a sectarian and exclusionary celebration of struggle as a goal in itself, of anti-intellectualism and violence (for now, mostly symbolic) as the exclusive marks of true Venezuelan-ness.

Venezuela cannot be made roja, rojita and remain fuly Venezuela. The embrace of the tricolor in contrast to Chavez'd dreary, unyielding red underlines a basic reality no amount of state power can overcome. As Briceño Guerrero puts it, "they can oppress us, repress us, compress us, depress us and squeeze us, but in the end they can't impress themselves upon us, they can't suppress us."

November 27, 2006

Rosales and this campaign season: The Good, the bad and the ugly

Katy says: After a brief trip due to work and family obligations, I am back at my desk full-throttle for this exciting election week.

This is a good moment to recap the Rosales campaign. Because regardless of what the polls or chavistas may say, anything could happen this Sunday. Chavez could win by a landslide, or his victory could be close, or Rosales could win, or Rosales could win but the CNE could declare Chavez the winner anyway, or Mrs. Rosales could have a baby with a pig's tail. Let's face it, when it comes to Venezuelan politics, logic is secondary and Macondo rules.

So before everything goes haywire and the unpredictable happens, before the talking heads start saying that they had predicted the unpredictable all along, let's recap what has worked, what hasn't, and what made us turn away in disgust.

The good

1. The energy: Rosales has been an enthusiastic campaigner. The impressive street demonstrations are simply a reflection of his hard work, his complete dedication to hitting the streets and talking to ordinary Venezuelans about their problems. Whether you love him, hate him or find him frustrating, he left it all on the mat, and that's something anyone can respect.

2. Evelyng! Mrs. Rosales has not only proved to be an effective campaigner, but her steady tone, her unwavering support and her maternal side - cute toddler in tow while addressing hundreds of thousands - have been a sight for sore eyes. It has done wonders to differentiate Rosales from the candidate of the Mysoginist Revolution.

3. The unity: Rosales has not only pumped up the opposition vote, he has also managed to galvanize once-deflated opposition political parties. Some people may think this is a bad thing, but we tend to forget that no democracy movement can survive without political parties, and in our country, no political parties can thrive without leadership. Rosales has been the catalyst of an enormous leap forward for the opposition's institutions.

4. Mi Negra: Some of us on this blog have been critical of Mi Negra. It remains to be seen whether it worked or not, but it certainly helped unify the candidate's message into a single idea. And that's a necessary - but obviously not sufficient - condition for winning.

5. The defeat of abstentionism: Never mind the statistics, our friend Alek Boyd went from throwing the towel to being Rosales's link to the blogosphere . That says a lot about the defeat of the abstentionist movement.

The bad

1. The polls: Whether you love them or hate them, whether you think they are paid or scientific, whether they reflect fear or simply pocket-book economics, we sure wish they looked a little better.

2. The appeal to Ni-nis: Rosales managed to bring together many different factions of the opposition, but it's hard to deny he has failed to connect with many Ni-ni voters. How big a deal this turns out to be remains to be seen, but one wishes he would have reached out to these crucial swing voters a little more.

3. The love campaign and the response: Chávez's love initiative was repulsive, the Rosales campaign's answer - to point out the many ways that Chavez DOESN'T love the country, but has rather punished it - was ineffective.

4. Globovisión and company: I've said it before, but it bears repeating that having a big media company as one of your main backers raises questions about your legitimacy and does nothing to conquer swing voters. Globovisión's coverage of the campaign has been excessively partial, and in that sense it has done more harm than good.

The ugly

1. "Red, oh-so-very red": Rafael Ramírez's speech to PDVSA workers, breaking the law by demanding their full support for the President, was a sad sign of the Revolution's complete moral decay. Watching that video made me ashamed to be a Venezuelan for the first time since... since Ruddy Rodríguez decided she wanted to be a pop singer.

2. The geezers and the has-beens: The Rosales campaign gave out way too many soapboxes for old-time politicos, for politicians who head parties whose militants number in the dozens and for repentant chavistas. Yes, Leopoldo Puchi, that means you.

3. Parasites, sweaty brows, attendance sheets: Chavistas regularly tried to make issues of non-issues, such as Rosales's allegedly referring to poor Venezuelans as "parasites" (he did not say that), or his wiping his brow after kissing Mi Negra poster-girl Gladys Ascanio as a sign of his racism (he was sweating profusely in a very warm afternnon). None of these got any sort of traction. They also kept coming back to Rosales having signed the attendance sheet at Carmona's swearing-in, which seems like a minuscule thing when compared to the real issues facing people such as crime, unemployment, the erosion of civi liberties or the end of private property and private education.

4. The truth behind XXIst Century Socialism: While Rosales published a complete government program, chavismo has no such thing. Only last week a video made waves in the Internet where Chávez explained that his idea for XXIst Century Socialism consists of a precambrian mix of bartering and communism. He even went so far as to declare that every community will have its own currency. Throwing a curveball like that at a point in the campaign where everyone is wrapping things up shows chavismo's usual contempt for voters. Watch him claim a mandate for this nonsense if he wins.

Did I miss anything? Do you disagree? Feel free to comment, but respect the rules. I will enforce them mercilessly.

Updated Survey Chart

Quico says: Well, I added two more polls to the Recent Surveys chart; one by Ipsos/AP and a second by Zogby/U. Miami. Again, I leave out surveys by fly-by-night, no-track-record pollsters without a reputation to defend (here's looking at you, CEPS and SurveyFast.)

With the two extra polls in consideration, the statistically meaningless but nevertheless intriguing mash-up average is

Chavez: 54.6%
Rosales: 33.3%

And just to pre-empt the inevitable Fear Factorers - if these results are driven by fear, what makes you think that voters will be less scared of Smartmatic/CNE than they are of Ipsos/AP?

November 26, 2006

Atmospherics of an anti-climax

JayDee says: The big day draws ever closer, though you would never know it walking around Caracas.

Sure, there are rallies and marches every day. Posters denouncing the devil and begging you to take off that red shirt hang from every lamp post. Well groomed talking heads lecture the viewers of Globovision on Caudillismo, while social workers in the Misiones warn that they will defend the revolution against the forces of the Empire by any means necessary.

But these atmospherics are so ingrained here, you tune them out.

Granted, in an environment like this, you can never rule out some sort of shocking surprise that truly mobilizes the populace, putting the scent of instability in the air.

But right now, with just 10 days to go, life goes on in Caracas much as it has all year. For a country with a reputation as a political "hot spot", the capital is, shockingly, a pretty boring place these days.

This point was driven home to me a few days back during a lunch time stroll through Sambil with a visiting colleague. Walking passed the LG Electronics store, we were compelled to stop in for a chat with the General Manager.

He showed us his most expensive T.V., a $2000, 48-inch plasma flat screen, and told us that he had sold over a pile of them this year. Over 100 had shipped in the month of July alone.

His most expensive refrigerator, a $5000 model with a built in T.V., has also enjoyed brisk sales. All in all, he boasted, his store was pulling in $50,000-$60,000/month this fiscal year.

My friend asked what he thought might be the political orientation of those who can afford such expensive goods. Were any supporters of the government?

"Of course," he answered with a grin, "they are the ones who pay in cash!"

Revolution is most definitely not in the air these days.

For all of the Hugo's rhetoric of "21st century socialism", Venezuela has become the 2nd largest market for plasma screen TV's in Latin America, trailing only Brazil.

I cannot and will not deny that this is a historic moment for Venezuela. After this election, we will learn some very important lessons about Chavez. Is he going to push this country over the edge, go authoritarian, and turn Venezuela into a dictatorship like the ones he spent all summer visiting?

And we will learn much about the opposition. Ironically, it's only after the election that we will know if Rosales is for real. Will he hold the opposition together? Will he stay in the ring and fight Chavez every step of the way in an organized and disciplined fashion, or will the opposition fall back on simplistic beliefs and strategies that left them without a single representative in the A.N.

The country will change after December 3rd, but it won't change on December 3rd. Because, right now, the economy is awash in cash, stores in Sambil are pulling in record profits, and Chavez's creeping authoritarianism has yet to really impact the lives of your average, politically apathetic citizen.