August 2, 2008

The Phantom Menace

Quico says: The more I think about the 26 Phantom Decree-laws Chávez "enacted" (but didn't publish) on Thursday, the angrier I get. Think about it. These people had a year and a half to publish these decrees...and they still didn't manage to turn them in on time!

It's totally nuts. And it leaves these decrees in a bizarre legal limbo. A law can't come into force until it's been published. That's Law 101 stuff, and it stands to reason, because the whole notion of a "secret law" is a contradiction in terms. How would you even know if you were breaking it?!

No matter what the government says, these 26 decrees do not have the rank and force of law right now. Publishing the title just doesn't cut it. The decrees can't be in force before the government gets around to publishing their full texts, which will presumably happen on Monday. El detalle is that Chávez's special powers to legislate by decree expired last Thursday: he simply has no legal basis to decree a law on Monday!

¿Y entonces?

Stop and think about how idiotically unnecessary this controversy is. Eighteen months. That's how long the government had to draft and publish these decrees. Five hundred and forty days utterly unencumbered by such nuisances as public scrutiny and open debate. A leisurely, uncontested, uncontestable year and a half to write whatever they damn well wanted...and they still blew the deadline!

Coño vale sometimes I get the feeling that the most objectionable aspect of chavismo isn't the authoritarianism, or the ego worship, or the sectarianism or the extremism or the sheer volume of paja-fueled utopian nonsense. It's the utter bumbling amateurishness of the whole operation: that's what'll drive you insane.

August 1, 2008

Oops, I did it again

Quico says: Guess what? Turns out yesterday was the last day of Chávez's powers to legislate by decree and - would you believe it? - today's gaceta oficial is about the size of a phone book. 26 new laws. No debate. No consultation. No friggin' idea what's in there.

It's probably nothing to worry's not like it caused any trouble the last time he pulled a stunt like this.

(On the plus side, it was 49 decree-laws in 2001, just 26 today. Chávez is arguably 46.94% less authoritarian than he was.)

Update: I had it wrong. Apparently, today's gaceta wasn't all that bulky because, in another kafkaesque twist, the government didn't actually publish the new decree-laws, just their titles. Which means that, at the moment, the new laws are technically in force, but only the government knows what they say.

My advice? Have a very quiet weekend. Don't go out. Just don't do anything. Until these things get published, anything you do may turn out to have been illegal.

You like him, you really like him!

Juan Cristobal says: - Yon Goicoechea is the political leader you rate most favorably. What can we make of this? Why doesn’t it sit right with me?

For the past 24 hours I've been trying to put my finger on why I find it hard to simply drink the Kool-Aid and jump on the bandwagon. It has to do with the fact that, before yesterday, I hadn't really listened to Goicoechea closely. So I decided to spend some quality time with Yon, courtesy of YouTube.

I declare myself unimpressed.

Let me start with the positives. He has the gift of gab, no question. He's personable, young, untainted, brave and appears to be a smart guy. All that is great. All that is what made me rate him "somewhat favorable" in my own poll (I went back and checked).

So what’s the problem?

Well, lets start with his speech at the Cato Institute, on receiving that Milton Friedman Award.

This was probably the highest-profile speech Yon had ever given, and he winged it. He spoke off the cuff in an unrehearsed speech. His performance was all over the place, ranging from awkwardly sappy (0'20"-0'40") to over-the-top (2'05") to talking like a beauty queen (5'16") to bits of far-right rhetoric (6'40"). It was so scattered, it almost gave me whiplash.

Don't get me wrong, it's OK for someone giving a speech to splash it with whimsy, sugar-coat his intro and spray it with a dash of humanity in the course of six or seven minutes. But it's tricky. It takes special talent and lots of practice. Only a speaker who knows who she is and has a clear idea of what she wants to say can pull something like that off. To do so, you need a core message that's so solid, that you're so comfortable with, you can dabble with sudden changes in tone without making the package jarring.

This was not the case with Yon. This was the biggest speech of his life, an acceptance speech for an award for $500,000, in front of influential members of the international community, a black-tie event at the Waldorf Astoria... and he blew it. He came across as an affable lightweight, as a kid who is running for student President, as a 23-year old undergrad with big dreams who doesn't yet know his place in the world.

In other words, he came across as himself. But he did not come across as the leader of a generation, as the factor that made the difference in December's Referendum.

But why should I care? Why is it an issue, aside from the fact that my readers really like this guy?

Well, because in a way, he was there representing me, you, and everyone who worked hard for that 2D result. All of us: those who stood in line, those who marched, those who got tear-gassed, those who got beaten up, and yes, those who blogged constantly - we all helped. But he's the one being annointed with the award, an award he would not have received had we all not won on December 2nd. He was up there receiving it not only on behalf of the student movement he so bravely helped lead, but of all Venezuelans who fought against the Constitutional Reform.

So, I dunno, he could have written a speech, y'know? Instead he came across as someone who had just unexpectedly won an Oscar. I kept expecting an orchestra to interrupt him...

Before you say anything, I accept the possibility that, yes, perhaps I'm being petty. After all, this boils down to form, right? What about the substance? Has he really thought about the issues?

I'm sorry, but I don't see any evidence of that either, and what little I see I'm not liking too much either.

In previous comments I characterized Goicoechea as "right-wing," and some of you took issue with that label. That's understandable. Those of you who rate him "Very favorably" or "My favorite" tend to be either moderates or center-left, as this cross-section of our poll suggests.

In spite of your own views, you feel tremendously excited about a guy whose main message (at least on this stage) was that poor people "don't have to be cared by the government but that they have to be left alone by the government."

Think about it, the guy’s main policy idea is that the government has to leave poor people alone. This would be an extreme position anywhere…except, perhaps, at the Cato Institute. Do you think this will play in Parapara? Is this guy even electable?

Maybe he doesn't really believe that. Maybe it's just an off-the-cuff thing he said. But when you're in a position of leadership like he is, your words will be scrutinized, which is precisely what I've been trying to do. And the sincerity of his stream-of-consciousness speech at the Cato makes me conclude that this view represents one of his core beliefs.

Many of you, then, are really into this guy even though your views clash with his. It probably has to do with the fact that you haven't listened carefully enough. Perhaps you've only listened to his more famous quotes and nodded because, yes, you totally agree.

Like on December 2nd, when he got up in front of a microphone and said “today we close a chapter of Venezuelan history and begin a new era. December 2 will be remembered as the day on which Venezuelans took back our country from the brink of dictatorship, reaffirming our democratic values, our right to freedom, and our desire to live in peace.”

Or, at El Nacional, as he told you that “the future is not negotiable, we must not give up, the future isn’t for sale, it’s not negotiable, we cannot get worn out now, we have to fight and if I had to fight for ten years more, I would do so too! So long as there’s one dignified Venezuelan, one democratic Venezuelan, one Venezuelan who wants to live in democracy in Bolívar’s homeland, we must not let our guard down!”

Sure, when Yon is saying it, it sounds good. It takes transcribing it to realize that it’s basically indistinguishable from the kind of platitudinous, largely content-free stuff we hear from politicians in the opposition all the time. In fact, it sounds remarkably like stuff Hollywood was penning way back in the 30s and 40s, only not as good.

Who in their right mind could disagree with that stuff? Or does the rhetorical dearth in our opposition run so deep that someone pointing out the obvious in a clear, lucid way comes across as some kind of prophet?

Perhaps that's it. Perhaps he wins by comparison. Perhaps, as in so many other occassions, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man rules.

Or perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps Yon will grow into a mature political leader, and his ideas will ferment to match his already impressive oratorical skills. Perhaps sooner, rather than later, Yon will become that leader many say he will become and I will have to eat my words and vote for him.

Or perhaps... perhaps... we’re being played. Again.

Perhaps Yon is being used by the oppo powers-that-be. Perhaps they see him as the next big thing, as someone they can manipulate. Perhaps the guys who love to play king-makers have just found themselves a new king.

You don’t have to read much between the lines to wonder.

Check out the introduction he gets in this video (notice the choice of words from the anchorwoman in the first few seconds) from our friends at Globovisión. Watch him taking center stage at El Nacional, of all places, lecturing people who really should know better than to sit there enthralled. Spare a critical thought for the way Nitu Perez Osuna introduces fellow student Stalin González in this video and the drool-soaked follow-up question by Carla Angola.

Yon plays well on TV. Yon gets a lot of play on TV. Hmmmmm…

What do you stand for? (II)

Quico says: Back to our Survey. We asked readers a couple of very broad questions about development strategy and PDVSA ownership. Moderation remained the order of the day. Caracas Chronicles reader's instincts are not favorable to the kind of free market economic fundamentalism chavismo usually caricatures us as favoring:

Click to enlarge

On the perennial question of oil sector ownership - a kind of Rorscach Test of Venezuelan attitudes towards the state - we also find a lot more support for gradual than for radical reform:

I bet if you'd survey the kind of people who read this blog 15, 10 or even 5 years ago, there would've been a lot more hard right answers.

July 31, 2008

A better states map

Quico says:

The Municipios Map

Quico says: Turns out somebody on Wikipedia also thought of mapping the 2007 referendum results, but at the municipal level. (Hat tip: Kepler.) This map makes the opposition's problem with rural voters even more stark.

(Click to enlarge - Yellow = Sí on Block A, No on Block B)

By my count, the government won 224 municipios, the opposition 108, and 2 went down the middle. And you have to wonder what the hell is going in Anzoátegui: the only eastern state where rural municipalities voted No in numbers.

Speaking of Anzoátegui, spare a thought, if you will, to the 14,347 residents of Municipio José Gregorio Monagas (capital: San Diego de la Cabrutica). CNE simply didn't count any of their votes!

Los desaparecieron a toítos!

Update: Juan Cristobal helped expand the table of key "municipios" to include the 45 municipios that make up Venezuela's 30 largest cities. At the time of the 2001 Census, 56.2% of Venezuelans lived in these 45 municipios. Do click to enlarge:

July 30, 2008

States to Watch Out For

Quico says: So, what would count as a "good" result for the opposition in the State and Local elections on November 23rd? How many states can we expect to win? What's the baseline here?

One somewhat crude but handy way to approach that is to look at the results of the Constitutional Reform Referendum held in December last year. Broken down by states, the Dec. 2nd Map turned out like this:

(click to enlarge - numbers ="Sí" votes in 2007.)

The government won in 14 States while the opposition won in 8, plus the Distrito Capital. Falcón was split right down the middle (actually, Block A of the reform proposal got just over 50% in Falcón, Block B just under.)

The urban/rural split is very conspicuous in this map. The opposition won all four of the most populous entities in the country and seven out of the most populous ten: Zulia, Miranda, Carabobo, Distrito Capital, Anzoátegui, Lara and Táchira. The government won three of the ten most populous entities - Aragua, Bolívar and Sucre - but swept every one of the rural states.

Interestingly, the nine entities where the opposition won account for 62% of Venezuela's population. Just 35% of the population lives in the 14 states the government won. The final result was close only because the government piled up big margins in rural states.

Municipios to watch out for

Quico says: When it comes to local races, it's even harder to know where to look. 335 mayors are going to be elected on November 23rd, way more than anyone sane could keep track of. So where should we be focusing on?

This little table shows the 27 key urban municipios in Venezuela, together with the results of the 2007 referendum in each of them. Together, they account for the country's 16 biggest cities (since several metropolitan areas are spread between more than one municipio.) Because - annoyingly - Venezuelan municipalities often have official names that don't match the usual names given to the places where they are, I've listed both side by side:

(Click to Enlarge)

Basically, the table includes all municipios with over 200,000 population in the 2001 census, alongside some high profile hotspots of opposition in Caracas (Chacao, El Hatillo) and in Valencia (San Diego and Naguanagua). If you spot a key municipio missing here, do let me know.

As of 2001, 46.8% of all Venezuelans were living in these 27 municipalities.

As we know, this urban electorate has been trending more and more against Chávez: the "Sí" got just 44% of the big city vote last December, compared to 49% nationally.

In the Valley of Caracas municipalities (Libertador + Chacao + Baruta + Sucre + El Hatillo) the Sí got a crushing 59.3% of the vote, a lead of 234,000 votes in an election that, nationwide, we won by just 125,000 votes.

Ciudad Guayana, Maturín, Punto Fijo, Barinas, Guarenas and La Guaira were the only big municipalities where the Sí won.

The appeal of big city municipios is pretty clear for the opposition. These are high profile offices where we stand a good chance of winning. Unfortunately, so far, the opposition has been able to agree on single candidacies for just 3 of these 27 municipios: Manuel Rosales in Maracaibo, Ocariz in Petare and Enzo Scarano in San Diego (Northeast of Valencia).

Update: Naguanagua municipality has now been included. Let me know if I'm missing another.

July 29, 2008

What do you stand for? (I)

Juan Cristobal says: - Well, the results from the second survey of Caracas Chronicles' readers is out. This one, as you will recall, focused on your political views. So let's begin talking about you and your ideas.

You tend to self-identify as moderate, with the center-left/centrist/center-right spectrum taking up 76% of the answers. You tend to lean a bit more to the left than to the right.

(click the images to enlarge.)

Some of the answers in the "It's complicated" portion were complicated indeed. Here is a taste:
"Kind of a red-neck hippie from the Southwest (think Edward Abbey)...I guess I am more of a Libertarian than anything...but a registered Democrat."

"Socially left, economically pragmatic, anti-imperialist, anti-authoritarian"


"Sorry, pero no puedo especificarlo en este espacio... cualquier cosa que escriba se quedara corta."

"Libertarian except for immigration policy; but vote Republican because I could never quite accept the Lib. "wasted vote" rationale. Strong supporter of President Bush. I will miss him."

"I'm a little bit country I'm a little bit Rock n' Roll"

"very lefty in social terms, very righty in economic ones, except I am very pro a rational regulatory environment (the stock exchange is way too loose for my taste)"

"lets call it enviromental capitalism with a touch of socialism and definetively anti anything radical, especially violence"

"Liberal (European sense)"

"Liberal in the Canadian sense, not in the US sense"
You are, unsurprisingly, pro-opposition, although 5 of you declared yourselves strongly chavista. Thank you PSFs, for taking the time.

Those of you who are complicated were even more numerous this time around. Many of you were simply opposition, but highly critical of opposition leadership and highly wary of being identified as opposition. In other words, you're Ni-nis, you just don't know it yet.

Here were some of the complicated answers you gave us:
"pro opposition, but they are idiots. My wife is Venezuelan and is a former Chavez supporter (never voted for him though), but now rabid opposition support...I didn't do anything! I swear!"

"strongly anti chavista but critical of many oppo. Pro Teodoro will describe it better"

"i like some of the professed goals, but i'm an anti-institutional anarchist, so you can imagine..."

"I think the opposition is the lesser evil..."

"Strongly anti-chavista but not finding much solace in the viable opposition"

"Sympathetic towards the opposition but knowing things are never so bad they can't be made worse"

"mi rechazo a mico mandate se podria calificar de fundametalista, pero eso no significa que apoye a la pandilla de mangantes que se llaman "oposicion"."

"Strongly against Chavez, however aware that an awakwening towards how the lower classes were marginalized in the past was necessary. Chavez brought this awakening but not the solution. Therefore strongly against Chavez, however The opposition doesn´t show signs of having a solution or even caring about making this change a reality, it seems like they are still after their own self interests (as usual)."

"I love the country, i can not side with this patetic oppo movement either."

"I'm not against the stated goals of Chavez, but think that he is failing to achieve them miserably. I really believe his intentions are far from what he says they are, which is part of why they fail. Also, I am very sympathetic towards the majority of Chavez supporters, just not the ones in positions of influence."

"I think Chavez is tapping into a reality of serious problems that existed under the ancien regime. I do not believe the current opposition would do a good job of addressing those very serious issues. It would be fantastic to see someone with both a real committment to democracy and also helping the poor."

Then we started discussing the opposition. First up, their institutions:

Podemos, UNT and Primero Justicia are the only political parties getting any love from you. But not surprisingly, it's the students that have the best image in the opposition, with Primero Justicia a distant second. 40% of you view the student movement in "very favorable" terms, and 23% label them "My favorite."

In fact, if you add "My favorite", "Very favorable" and "Somewhat favorable", the students get a whopping 83.6%. Primero Justicia gets a less enthusiastic 71.6%, while none of the others gets more than 50%.

After that, it was on to specific opposition personalities.

Clearly, the best rated opposition politician is... Jon Goicoechea! Yes, by a wide margin, the most visible leader of the student movement, UCAB undergrad Goicoechea wins. I guess it's too bad that because of his age he would have to wait until 2018 to even be allowed to run for President. Leopoldo López comes in a close second, followed by Gerardo Blyde, Francisco Rodríguez, Roberto Smith, Liliana Hernández and Andrés Velásquez.

The most disliked person on the list was a surprise to me: Raúl Baduel. We don't save a lot of love for military turncoats at Caracas Chronicles!

When asked to write the name of the opposition personality you trust the most, most of you simply confirmed that Goicoechea was your favorite. Among the people not listed above, many of you named Teodoro Petkoff. Some of ranted about how you don't trust any of them, while a few of the lunatics among you kindly put Quico, Miguel, Daniel and I in the list of people you trust.

Next we asked for your views on the government's institutions:

Not surprisingly, they all rank dismally low. But the one that beats them all, the headquarters of horrors, if you will, is the Comptroller's Office. I wonder if this would have been your response a year ago. It even beats the National Assembly and the PSUV!

Now, to me, the real horror in your responses is that, of the government institutions listed, you rate the Armed Forces the least unfavorably. Perhaps you need reminding which institution harbored, educated, nurtured most of chavismo's key figures. Perhaps you need to reflect on who is cashing in the most from this Robolution.

Then we asked you to rate people inside the government. The bottom of the barrel is crowded indeed.

Surprisingly, Hugo Chávez is not the most hated man on this blog - Chavista henchmen Mario Silva and cheerful rabble rouser extraordinaire Lina Ron manage to out-Chávez the Fat Man in the Palace.

The two figures you dislike the least are former taxman José Vielma Mora and current Minister of Finance Alí Rodríguez, but their ratings are nothing to brag home about. Vielma Mora may be the least-hated chavista around, but he's still ranked lower than Raúl Baduel, the worse of the lot in the opposition (see above).

Then we asked about the media. First up, an open question on the media outlets you trust the most. This was a hodge-podge, with anything from Caracas Chronicles to Yahoo News to Noticiero Digital showing up. When asked to rank using a closed list, here is what you answered:

The Economist was the best-regarded media outlet in the list, followed by El Chigüire Bipolar (!) and El Universal. I guess, after all these years, we still haven't lost our sense of humor. The least appreciated, not surprisingly, was VTV, followed by the largely unknown Canal i and by Noticiero Digital.

As for media personalities, here are the results:

Eleazar Díaz Rangel is ranked the lowest, closely followed by New Yorker writer Jon Lee Anderson who, in all justice, is a great writer but perhaps a bit too sympathetic toward Chávez for your tastes. Juan Forero and Patricia Poleo don't get much love from you, but Chuo Torrealba, Teodoro Petkoff and Manuel Caballero do.

We also asked for your views on foreign leaders. Here were your responses:

Alvaro Uribe tops the list, followed by Lula, Michelle Bachelet (guácala) and Ingrid Betancourt. Surprisingly, this is one of the few rankings where George W. Bush does not figure at the bottom, which means you are either highly intelligent, very right-wing, or you really, really dislike Daniel Ortega, Rafael Correa, Piedad Córdoba and Cristina Kirchner.

Oh, and on this survey, Obama beats McCain, but not by a whole lot.

Then we asked for your views on historical figures.

The highest-ranked figure was towering intellectual Arturo Uslar Pietri, closely followed by Francisco de Miranda (huh? You'll have to explain that one in the comments section). The bottom is reserved for Caldera, CAP and Marcos Pérez Jiménez, but it's Caldera where most of you place the blame. Clearly no love for the chiripero amongst you.

Also worth pointing out that so many years of permanent Bolívar cult have left you feeling a bit ho-hum about the man.

We also asked about specific periods in history and historical institutions:

The old PDVSA tops the list. 53% of you ranked it either "My favorite" or "Very favorably". The Pacto de Punto Fijo came remarkably in second place, which was a total surprise to me given how you don't hold much fondness for AD and Copei, the two parties that actually implemented the Pact. But the loser in this list was the Guerrilla Movement, not surprisingly.

Since the survey was interminably long, we'll continue digesting the results on specific policy issues in Part II of this post...

Capitol Hill Chronicles

Juan Cristobal says: - Today we have something really special for you.

Dorothy is an American economist who has spent considerable time in Venezuela. Her insightful reports on various issues related to our country have appeared in print and on the web.

Now based in Washington, DC, she has succumbed to our begging and agreed to write for us once in a while - volunteer writing, of course, this being a revolution and all.

Her inaugural post is an account of the latest Congressional hearings on all things Hugo. Please help me welcome Dorothy to Caracas Chronicles!

Dorothy says - As a born-and-bred norteamericana just returned from a year-long sojourn in Caracas, I'd like to think that the US can do better by Venezuela than the government's cringeworthy post-coup comments, the hard-right Otto Reich ridiculousness or the recent parade of PSF celebrities.

A recent hearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs ("Venezuela: Looking Forward") gave me a glimmer of hope. In three hours of testimony and discussion, there was a respectable amount of level-headed common sense about how the next administration can improve bilateral relations: make clear that we have no intent to engineer regime change in Venezuela, focus on our commercial (oil) relationship, and, above all, avoid doing anything stupid like designating Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism.

That's not to say there wasn't plenty of stupidity--this remains, after all, the Bush administration. Early in the session, long-time NY Democratic representative Eliot Engel (who is the committee chair) congratulated Miss Venezuela on winning the Miss Universe pageant, prompting Republican Dan Burton to blurt out, "Is she here?!"

Engel said that no, she wasn't here, but that if she were, they would surely have invited her to testify first. Shannon (Thomas Shannon, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere) looked uncomfortable.

Raging Chavez-hater Connie Mack took the prize for the dumbest comment of the session. The four academic experts who testified (Javier Corrales, David Myers, Norman Bailey, and Jennifer McCoy) concurred that it would be unwise for the US to designate Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism. Thankfully, Shannon seemed to agree -- he couldn't say so outright, but he repeated several times that the administration is acutely aware of the potential political consequences of such a move. Needless to say, this did not go over well with Connie, who said that while "this time it was laptops with information about Chavez's relationship with the FARC," next time it might be laptops with information about an "increasing relationship" with Ahmadinejad ... as if talking to Iran were grounds on which to designate a country a state sponsor of terrorism!

If that were the case, we'd have to add ourselves to the list!

He also pronounced Ahmadinejad "AK-madinejad." Maybe he should take note of Katie Couric's trick: say "I'm a dinner jacket" very quickly. But even that's not right.

Anyway, here's hoping some of the positive lessons from this hearing get through to the Obama administration. If the comments on his website are any indicator, at least a few Venezuelans are optimistic: a note from someone calling himself the "World Director Venezolanos con Obama" in Los Teques says,
"I'm from Venezuela,i love my country,i'm proud of that,but we are passing for a very hard time in here,i don't like anything from President Chavez,i never support him,i hope the you be the next President of U.S.A.and not only help your country,i hope the you help my country. I'm really proud of you Sir,because when the people pass for bad time in there lives,we need a person the can move the deep of our soul & make us feel alive again. I'm sorry for my English. Thank you so much."

The Edo Era

Quico says: The other day somebody who doesn't usually comment (I'm guessing norteamericano) asked me about the relationship between Chávez and the minority parties that support him. I told him that was more a subject for a treatise in psychopathology than a blog. As it turns out, though, Edo - editorial cartoonist for El Mundo - managed to convey it in a single comic strip panel.

New Comments Software

Quico says: As some of you know, I've had a long-running hate-hate relationship with Haloscan, the outfit that desiugned the comments software I've been using for the last five and a half years. Last night, in a bout of insomnia, I found out there's are far more powerful commenting tools out there these days, so I switched.

My new provider is called Intense Debate. I'm all into it. Intense Debate is to Haloscan what a Porsche 911 is to a donkey cart.

The killer app here is comment rating, which allows you to have your say on which comments you find most valuable. In effect, this spreads the burden of moderating the comments section: rather than Juan Cristobal and I having to do it all, everybody - even lurkers - can help out with very little effort. It only takes a second to rate good comments Up and lousy ones Down. Over time, people who reliably contribute valuable comments accumulate reputation points, which are shown each time you post. You can even choose to sort posts from the highest to the lowest rated, which will make it easy to cut through to the best comments and give the trolls a miss.

Do let me know how it works on your machine. Initial reviews are somewhat dodgy. If too many of you hate it, I might consider switching to the other competitor in this race: Disqus.

Frankly, I've been so sick of Haloscan for so long, I'm just glad to have some choices here.

July 28, 2008

Yes we can!

Juan Cristobal says: - They say politics makes strange bedfellows. But in the history of bedfellows, has there ever been an odder couple than the two in the picture?

I'm talking, of course, of Maria Corina Machado and Ismael García.

She is the dashing leader of electoral NGO Súmate. He is an Assembly member for Podemos, a center-left party formerly allied with Chávez whose acronym literally means "Yes we can."

She stood accused of having signed Carmona's decree before being granted amnesty earlier this year. He is a former Chávez ally who once tried to put her in jail but is now labeled as a traitor to Chávez.

She worked tirelessly to collect the necessary signatures to revoke Chávez's mandate. He worked tirelessly to show these signatures were fraudulent.

She comes from one of Venezuela's most traditional families, a graduate of Caracas' poshest school. He is a former handyman for pharmaceutical company Farvenca, a Falcón boy who made it up the ranks of his union, went into politics under the wing of the socialist MAS party and was elected mayor of La Victoria and, later, Assembly member.

And here they are, both opposing Chávez. Yesterday she helped organize the primary in which his candidate won the right to run as sole opposition candidate for governor of Aragua, one of Venezuela's most populous states.

I guess they had something in common all along. After all, neither of them has a problem hanging out with psychos.

So if these two can learn to put aside their differences and work together, can the rest of us ever learn to do the same?

Hugo Chávez, Union Buster

Quico says: You gotta hand it to Chávez. We're almost a decade into this whole mess and somehow he still manages to surprise, to amaze even.

Yesterday's little outburst on the perverse power of State TV unions was one for the ages. The whole thing will have your jaw firmly pinned to the floor, but I especially enjoyed the bit 2:45 minutes into the clip:

Chávez (talking about VTV cameramen, in high outrage mode): "Check it out, they get eight hours' pay for each overtime hour worked! And if you want to change that, they raise a stink! Some of them make threats! That means, for every hour they work on a Sunday they get paid for eight! Because that's signed into what they call the...whatchamacallit?" (sp: lo que llaman...¿cómo es?)

Voice off-camera: "Collective bargaining agreement."

Chávez: "The collective bargaining agreement...on the government's dime!"
The whatchamacallit? The whatchamacallit?!?!?!

As I watched the clip, I got this heady sense of having struck a deep, rich vein of rant-fodder. It's just so richly textured, this one. It reveals so much. There are so many levels of fucked-upedness crammed in so compactly into this tirade. It's so, so meta.

To begin with, there's something almost oedipal about it. Here we have Chávez. Ranting. Against. VTV cameramen!!!

There is probably nobody else in the country Chávez owes more to than VTV cameramen. These are the people most conspicuously, most immediately responsible for making possible his whole government-via-cathode-ray shtick. In fact, when you watch the video, you're only able to watch it because one of the targets of the rant was still pointing a camera at the guy. There's something psychoanalytically radioactive about singling them out for an utterly weird tongue -lashing: he should be washing their feet!

Then there's the sheer narcissism. It's hard to shake the feeling that what really bugs Chávez is that people should demand to get paid extra to point a camera at him. He seems to think that's a privilege, not a job, that people should be lining up to offer to do that for free.

The whole tone of the tirade treats collective bargaining as a kind of ruse, a cheap trick, an unlikely excuse that those crafty cameramen had up their sleeve to bamboozle the poor, golden-hearted Marxist revolutionary government out of some cash. But wasn't the revolution supposed to be about improving working people's lives!? What the hell kind of communist is he!?

I especially like the use of the passive voice in the phrase "eso está firmado" ("that is signed") - a construction that handily draws attention away from the fact that the contract didn't just magically sign itself, that if it's signed it's because there are signatories, that a collective bargaining agreement is exactly that, an agreement between two parts, both of whose signatures are needed before it can go into effect.

Who signed the current VTV contract on behalf of the state? Hell if I know, but after 10 years in power, the chances are very high it was someone acting under Chávez's authority and on his behalf. What he's accusing the cameramen of, the degeneracy he slams them for, consists of expecting him to keep his word!

Probably the thing that winds me up most here is just the sniveling, cowardly choice of targets. Chávez might have taken this up with the union, with his minister, with whomever negotiated the contract, with the people who are actually responsible. But he doesn't. Instead, he prefers to humiliate the couple of flunkies who happened to be on the job that day, innocent bystanders in a verbal drive-by shooting. What a pathetic, bullying thing to do.

And then, it's impossible to miss the weird selectiveness of Chávez's concern for the wellbeing of the national treasury, as though it's overtime pay at VTV that's stretching the revolution's finances.

Is Chávez going to drive a similarly hard bargain with the Russians to ensure that the guys who build his tanks and submarines don't end up drawing lots of overtime pay on Venezuela's dime? Does he bully Raúl Castro when he sits down to negotiate those oil supply deals to try to get a better deal for the Venezuelan treasury? How about the workers building the Manabí refinery in Ecuador, will he insist they work for no pay so that costs don't become "unsustainable"?

How many of Cilia Flores's relatives on the National Assembly payroll is he going to buttonhole to get them to give up their overtime? When is he going to demand that Wilmer Ruperti volunteer his time as he ships PDVSA's oil? Or that Victor Vargas trade government bonds on a not-for-profit basis?

It's stomach turning, honestly. I hope this gets some play in the press. The SNTP (National Press Workers Union) needs to step up to the plate here, take a stand for itself and for its members. And oppo políticos should realize what a blunder Chávez's new pet cause - volunteer overtime - really is, and capitalize on it, politically speaking.

Last year, Nicolas Sarkozy got elected president of France on a promise to allow people to "work more so you can earn more." In France, the pitch came across as politically courageous: imagine, asking voters to work harder!

But Chávez has one-upped him, his new vision is "work more so you can earn less". Anything else he calls degenerate and pledges to fight.

It's a testament to just how out of touch the Fat Man in the Palace has gotten. Only someone very, very far removed from the day-to-day struggle to make ends meet that most Venezuelan families face could ever think this would play in Parapara. Normal Venezuelans want a government that honors their economic aspirations and works to help them realize them, not a government that randomly abuses them for wanting a better life.

This is some low-hanging fruit we're talking about here, people.