November 9, 2007

Saudi Brazil

Quico says: While we weren't paying attention, South America's energy map changed.

Brazil has discovered somewhere north of 5 billion barrels of recoverable, light oil just off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. The Tupi find could boost Brazil total reserves by 50%, turning the country into a net exporter. They could be pumping a million barrels a day outta there for a decade and a half or more to come.

It's one of those transcendent but slow burn events whose importance the press isn't very good at conveying. You won't notice the implications this week, or this year. But the strategic calculus in the region just changed.

Brazil's reserves are still a small fraction of Venezuela's but, today, the regional power is much less energy dependent on its northern neighbor than it was last week. It won't be the sexiest piece of news you'll read this week, but it's probably the most important.

November 8, 2007

Be the reconciliation you preach

Katy says: The violence we are currently seeing on the streets of Venezuela should surprise no one. Last Sunday, Pres. Chavez ordered his followers to crack down on student protesters, and that is exactly what they are doing. To accomplish this goal, they are ensured a fresh supply of weapons and full immunity from all levels of the State.

Obviously, protesting in Venezuela is becoming an increasingly dangerous proposition. However, there is another imminent danger - that we fall into the same cycle of violence. Few things work better for chavismo than forcing our side to radicalize, and it seems as if the government is following the same script we have seen dozens of times before.

At this stage in the game, though, we need to be very careful with the message we convey. We are less than a month away from a crucial election, and adopting a radical position would simply turn away the moderate swing-voters that hold the key to winning.

I realize that right now might seem like the least appropriate moment to be talking about reconciliation, what with our young people getting shot at. However, it's in times like these when our true mettle is tested, when our true nature comes to the surface. It's important that people in the opposition as well as moderate chavistas see that our nature is peaceful, just like we say it is.

Of all groups, moderate chavistas who dislike the Constitutional reform figure as they key constituency right now. According to recent polls, these are people who are not yet convinced of voting against Chavez because they like some of the things the government does.

So while we contemplate with horror how students are attacked, let's keep our heads cool and remember a few key ideas:

1. We offer reconciliation and peace, chavismo offers violence. This idea may sound like a cliché, but it should be the core of our message, and this has practical implications. Restraint is the key here. If we defend ourselves using violence, we can no longer confidently say that we are for reconciliation. And if we are dishonest about reconciliation, we have very little message left. In other words, one of the single most important reasons in our arsenal to convince people to vote "No" hinges on taking it like flower-eating pacifists and turning the other cheek.

The developments so far are promising. Not only did UCV students yesterday show remarkable judgment in not responding to violence, they also canceled a march today to cool things off a bit. This prevents further skirmishes where we may have a lot to lose in the eyes of public opinion.

2. Recognize that some chavistas are honest idealists fighting real injustice. It is not enough to simply back off from responding to chavistas. We need to continue reaching out to moderate chavistas who are just as horrified as we are about the current events, who may oppose the reform but still feel they would not vote against it because it would amount to voting against Chavez.

In order to get their attention, we must recognize that many of these people are honest in their beliefs, and that we can live with, tolerate and even respect them. We must struggle to find common ground. For example, neither them nor us want to go back to what we had before. Both of us can agree there was, and still is, a tremendous amount of injustice and exclusion in our society. Until you believe these things, until you are able to see past the gunmen and discover the moderates, you cannot become an instrument of reconciliation, and any promises to be one will come off as dishonest.

3. Nobody who hates Chavez and chavistas can preach reconciliation honestly. I thought about this one for a while, but I believe it is true. If you hate, you cannot reconcile. The reason is simple: reconciliation will require in the future an arrangement where chavistas and us can coexist, where the possibility of civilized interactions between Chavez and our leaders is still possible. Yet hatred gets in the way of that, making it extremely difficult and unlikely.

Imagine for a moment a future where you are President and Chavez is no longer in office but still a relevant political figure. Is your first inclination to extract revenge for all that has happened? Is it your goal to wipe chavismo off the political face of the nation? Or do you seek to find a way to coexist with chavismo, its legacy and its followers without sacrificing your own ideas? Do you look for a middle ground, or would you see that as a betrayal to our cause?

I think everyone who participates in our struggle must ask themselves these questions. The answer to them will say a lot about how honest we are as agents of reconciliation, a key element in becoming a majority and saving our country.

Go the extra mile to be the peace that you preach, but don't take it from me, take it from one of my heroes.

A picture summarizes what a "Si" victory would mean

Katy says: Really says it all, doesn't it?

PS.- Quico is traveling, and I'll be out of contact starting tonight for the weekend. Later today, I will post something, and then it's lights out until Monday. Have a safe weekend.

November 7, 2007

Are you in an abusive political relationship?

Katy says: Does the President you have supported in the past:

1. Embarrass you with put-downs and call you a traitor for not thinking like him?

2. Say things or act in ways that scare you?

3. Want to control what you do, what you see on TV, what education your kids get, what you buy or where you go?

4. Harm your relationship with your friends, coworkers or family members?

5. Take your money, make you ask for money or refuse to give you money

6. Make all of the decisions?

7. Tell you that your values are wrong or threaten to take away your freedoms?

8. Prevent you from finding a job or learning according to your choice?

9. Act like verbal abuse or violence is no big deal, it’s your fault, or even deny doing it?

10. Destroy or take away people's property in an unfair manner?

11. Intimidate you with purchases of guns, airplanes, boats or other weapons?

12. Hit you with laws that came out of nowhere, on which you had no input?

13. Force you to go to marches and wear a red shirt?

14. Say that all good things he has done will end if he does not get what he wants?

15. Threaten to never leave office or bury politically anybody who disagrees with him?

If you answered 'yes' to even one of these questions, you may be in an abusive political relationship.

For help in how to deal with this, VOTE NO December 2nd.

PS.- This one is dedicated to my moderate chavista friends.
PS2.- I trust I have not come across as insensitive toward the plight of victims of domestic violence the world over, but this questionnaire is adapted from this one.

School shootings in Finland, and Caracas

Katy says: The peaceful march to the Supreme Tribunal is tainted in blood, as previous marches were. There are reports that an armed group has entered the campus of Central University in Caracas and has opened fir on students coming back from the march. They have apparently taken over the School of Social Work and set fire to a bus. Four kids have gunshot wounds, but the number is sure to mount. Read the breaking news in Spanish here.

There was a school shooting in Finland today as well. I'm sure the UCV shooting will not make the headlines in the same way as the Finland shooting. After all, when students are shot in Finland, it's news. When it happens in Caracas, it's just another day in the red, very red revolution.

What can we do but hope this ends without further bloodshed.

Tomorrow's headlines, today

Loyal reader lucia say: A glimpse at the possible headlines on December 3, 2007

Chávez Wins Once More, Despite Opposition to Reforms

Caracas. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez won approval from Venezuelan voters yesterday on a slate of constitutional changes that considerably consolidates his hold over power, altering substantially the political and legal framework in this nation of 26 million. Approval for the reform reached 52% of valid votes, versus 45% for the "No" option.

Although polls leading up the election had shown growing opposition to the reforms, and a number of prominent supporters of the President had defected from his camp in recent weeks, Venezuela's divided opposition was unable to turn these advantages into a victory, as a substantial portion of "No" voters stayed away from the polls out of mistrust for the process and electoral authorities. Abstention reached 60% of eligible voters.

Objecting to what they called unfair conditions, some opposition leaders had called for abstention, a strategy which appears to have provided the President with the margin needed for victory. Polls leading up the elections had shown majorities in Venezuela against the reform’s central propositions, which included the removal of term limits for the President and new restrictions on private property.

President Chávez has easily won electoral contests in the past, but faced new challenges in this referendum. General Raúl Baduel, long a Chávez loyalist, was a vocal critic of the reforms. Podemos, one of the policital parties that supports the President, openly called people to vote "No." Escalating food shortages have cut into the President’s once sky-high approval ratings. University students across the nation had led demonstrations against the reforms in the weeks leading up to the vote and repeatedly called on voters to vote "No." And although support for the President’s social spending remains high, there were clear indications that the new reforms were considered too radical for most Venezuelans.

Nonetheless, today it appears as if the President has the tools he needs to transform his nation into a socialist state. Some anticipate an increase in media censorship and political repression along with the broad changes to the nation’s economic underpinnings.

“There’s no doubt about it,” said Lance Freeman of the Inter-American Dialogue, “Venezuela’s opposition scored another own-goal.”

Pablo Cabrera, 54, a taxi driver, was one of the opposition’s supporters who did vote yesterday. "Of course, we have to vote, no matter what,” he said, standing in line at a voting center in Catia, a barrio in Caracas, “or these reforms will kill our country.”

November 6, 2007

One thing I am forced to admit...

Quico says: ...the electoral dynamic is not what it was.

Top ten reasons you should vote December 2

Katy and loyal reader lucia say: Well, it's election time again, and even though the rightful owner of this blog is kind of sick of the voting vs. abstaining debate, most pollsters think it's the most relevant issue. Personally, I believe we should engage those who believe in abstention - chavistas and non alike - and try and convince them to vote come December 2.

What follows are the Top Ten reasons why you should vote on December 2 - I thought of using "abstain from abstaining", but that was going to be way too confusing. Credit for this post goes to lucia, who egged me on and wrote most of it.


Imagine your sister tells you she's not going to vote, period. How would you convince her? What would you tell her? Here are a few hints.

1. Vote because it is the right thing to do. If the Sí vote wins, things will get worse, a lot worse. And one day, historians will point to this moment as the key, the moment when Chávez went from wannabe dictator to the real thing.

Voting is a sacred right, a privilege. Many Venezuelans died so you could have the right to vote. To this day, people all over the world continue to die because they don't have the right to vote. Do you think the Burmese monks who are in the streets protesting would boycott an election if the military junta held one? Probably not.

2. Vote because your vote does not legitimize anything, just like abstaining does not take away legitimacy from anything. A vote does not equal an endorsement of the CNE, nor does it equal an endorsement of the way the reforms have been introduced. It is possible to vote and protest at the same time. In fact, that day, voting is the only form of protest that will be allowed.

3. Vote to show we are democratic. If we want to show fellow Venezuelans and the world that our movement is democratic, we must participate in elections. Look at how others see our track record: the Carmona debacle, a strike, a boycott of Asamblea elections. If we're honest, we acknowledge that our own democratic credentials could use a boost.

People in Venezuela find it hard to grasp exactly how much respect our side has lost in the eyes of foreign observers. It's very, very hard to explain to sympathetic foreign audiences that abstaining or boycotting elections is the way to get rid of Chávez. Yes, we're fighting an un-democratic regime. But unless we fight it democratically, why are we any better? And how can abstaining or waiting for guarimbas or a coup to topple the government be considered democratic?

4. Vote because, for the first time since before the Recall Referendum, we may actually win. Surveys show voters do not support indefinite re-election. Among all voters, the Sí vote loses! But among likely voters, the Sí vote wins.

Why? Abstention in the No camp. If we vote, we put pressure on the CNE and the government. We force them to either recognize our triumph, or steal the election.

5. Vote because boycotts don't work. Look at what happened the last time the opposition tried a boycott: the result was zero representation of a huge chunk of the population in the Asamblea. Opposition Asamblea members would have had more standing and status to make their case to the world. When we walked out of the Asamblea, we lost a forum for dissent. No one outside the opposition (certainly nobody overseas) agreed that the low participation in the election reduced the legitimacy of the Asamblea.

Furthermore, many opposition voters (especially in the D and E classes) were disgusted with the opposition decision to deny them a chance to participate. They wanted to vote, even if they distrusted the process, just to be able to express their opposition.

That time, there was a full boycott backed by the entire opposition. This time around, key opposition leaders will promote the No vote. Boycotting a vote doesn’t usually work, and it definitely won’t this time with only a portion on board.

6. Vote to be counted, to say that we are here. A vote is the only way the government knows it has an opposition. If you don't vote, your opposition to the reforms will remain forever unknown. Whatever you think of the outcome of December's election, we can point to it and say that at least 40% of the electorate opposes Chávez.

7. Vote because a lot of people want us to vote. The students. The church. Business groups. Advocates for freedom around the world. Even chavistas such as Podemos and General Baduel. All have worked and spoken out against the reforms. All have called out to vote for the No. They've all gone out on a limb and stuck their necks out. What about you – are you going to do your part?

8. Vote because it may be the last time we're allowed to do so. Vote now, while you still can.

9. Vote to stop evil. These reforms are evil. When confronted with evil, you fight with everything you have, including your ballot.

10. Vote, so you can look at yourself in the mirror on December 3rd. When your children ask where you were on December 2, 2007, what will you tell them? That you stayed at home out of disgust for the process? That you didn't want to "legitimize" the CNE? That you considered putting a little paper ballot inside a box was equivalent to "going to the slaughterhouse"?

Instead, be able to tell them that you voted despite the obstacles, despite not believing in the CNE and having no guarantees that the outcome would be respected no matter what.

Tell them you did what you could and you stood up for what was right in spite of the circumstances. Just like Chileans did in 1988. Just like Aung San Suu Kyi did in 1990. Just like Nelson Mandela did in 1994. Just like Ukrainians did in 2004. Voting is what democrats do.

John Reed, father of all PSFs

Katy says: If John Reed were alive today, he would surely be in Caracas reporting the glories of Chavez's revolution. Say what you will about Reed, at least he packed his bags and went to live in revolutionary Russia: the guy walked the walk.

Today's brand of PSF, the likes of Danny Glover, Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Naomi Campbell and countless other nincompoops, prefer the quickie, in-and-out approach. Which doesn't stop them from acting like they're entitled to opine on Venezuela just because they once posed in front of a Canaima waterfall in a thong.

Over at, Anne Appelbaum has their number. Don't miss this delicious spanking of PSFs everywhere.

November 5, 2007

Baduel drops a bombshell...

Quico says: Not much of the day-to-day political give-and-take in Caracas interests me enough to blog about anymore. That said, today's statement by General Baduel was a no-kidding bombshell. The guy who undid the April 2002 coup says the proposed constitutional reform would amount to a coup d'état and notes the armed forces' obligations as "guarantors of the rule of law". Yowza.

When Baduel takes a stand against a coup, people sit up and take notice.

Update: The government's reflexes aren't letting it down. It took about a third of a second for the Official knee to jerk and label Baduel a traitor. A pajarito put this comment in my inbox:
Can there ever have been, in the history of world politics, a leader with such extraordinarily bad judgment when it comes to choosing his closest collaborators? It would be different, perhaps, if they simply parted company on a matter of principle, but that - we are assured - is not the case. They were born traitors, just waiting for the right moment to stab the great leader in the back...

Luis Miquilena - traitor
Jesus Urdaneta - traitor
Raul Baduel - traitor
Alfredo Peña - traitor
Francisco Usón - traitor
Luis Velásquez Alvaray - traitor
Ismael García - traitor
Francisco Arias Cárdenas - reformed (?) traitor
Jorge Olavarría - traitor
Hermann Escarrá - traitor
Herma Marksman - traitor
Nedo Paniz - traitor
Pablo Medina - traitor
Manuel Rosendo - traitor
Efraín Vásquez Velasco - traitor
etc. etc....

How extraordinary that a man so astute in so many ways should have been so comprehensively - and repeatedly - deceived as to the moral fibre of his comrades.

November 4, 2007

And a happy birthday to you!

Katy says: How will folks like these assimilate into XXIst Century Socialism?

One wonders what planet these people live in. Sometimes I think *they* are the real enemy.