August 9, 2008

That's sooooo 2002, Miguel Henrique!

Quico says: So, did you hear the one about the abstentionist leader who morphed seamlessly into a spokesman for a movement named after an election?

No, it's not a bad joke, it only sounds like one.

Watching Movimiento 2D's solemn declaration of dictatorship at that press conference yesterday, I couldn't shake the feeling I'd stepped through a gash in the space-time continuum and been dropped straight back into the bad old days of unhinged, reactionary elite driven oppo maximalism.

The national emergency tone, the pitch aimed straight at the NDRoots, the sheer was all there. And of course, no podía faltar the bow towards the altar of Article 350. Which was a dead giveaway: it's an Iron Law of Venezuelan Politics that whenever an opposition leader utters the words "tres cientos cincuenta", what follows is a torrent of onanistic bullshit.

And another thing: what sense does it make for a newspaper owner to co-sign a comuniqué? Newsflash, Miguel Henrique: signing comuniqués is the sort of thing we mortals have to do so people like you take notice and publish our stuff. If you were so determined to inflict this cretinous tirade on us, all you had to do was send your jefe de redacción an email.

But I digress. What grates is his whole preening demeanor, this prima donnaish pose where you stand in front of some microphones and ponderously declare that, ahora sí, we're in a dictatorship. And expect that to have some kind of effect. ¡A estas alturas del partido!

The guy needs Laureano Márquez to set him straight:
The country isn't headed towards a collision; we've been picking up bits of broken glass and spreading ointment on the black and blues from the blows received for ages already, to say nothing of the blows to come. The collision already happened. The blows are coming from the other car's driver - he hits us with a wrench wrapped in judicial velvet, to avoid leaving a trace. The country isn't slipping out of our grasp, it's been beyond our reach for ages.
(Whodda thunk, a few years ago, that advice penned for General Baduel would come to fit like a glove when re-encauchated for M.H.Otero's benefit?)

August 8, 2008

The Gacetazo: 10% tyranny, 90% paja

Quico says: Reading through some of the 26 Decree-"Laws" that are collectively coming to be known as the Gacetazo, the thing that pops out at me is that most of what's in there isn't really tyrannical, or unconstitutional or Marxist or whatever. Most of it's just paja. Airy nonsense. Kilometrically wordy, groovy-leftie BS: noble-hearted statements of intent, platitudinous definitions, utterly inconsequential lists of principles, and sundry other bits of filler apparently included just so Monedero & Co. over at Centro Miranda can justify their billing hours.

Take article 39 of the new Food Security Law...
Monetary and non-monetary exchange alternatives, such as the equivalence economy, barter, or any other mechanisms of comparative valuation that may result from a trade, are valid for the fair exchange of food, products, inputs, knowledge and agricultural services, as regulated by the judicial order.
Well, it's a good thing that's written into law now. I'm sure campesinos up and down the land will breathe a sigh of relief and start bartering stuff now that it's allowed. Gracias, Juan Carlos, we never would've thought of it without you!

Sure, alongside the reams and reams of that kind of thing, there's a hard nub of hyper-regulatory, massively papeleo generating, patently unconstitutional and creepily punitive measures.

But the bread and butter of the gacetazo? A tsunami of paja.

August 6, 2008

What do you stand for? (III)

Juan Cristobal says: - We've been sitting on our reader poll results long enough, so here goes the rest of it. First up, law and order.

Our surveyed readers came out strongly against the death penalty, and expressed widespread fear of the police. Many of you strongly agree that the focus should be on ending poverty and exclusion. You also think that bringing life imprisonment and cracking down on drugs is part of the puzzle. (click on images to enlarge)

We tried to see how many of you respond more to heavy-handed policing versus those of you who see this as nothing more than a quick fix. A large majority of you (more than 60%) think that heavy-handed policing is not the solution it can appear to be. We also asked whether you were also inclined to simply throw up your arms and see crime as a problem with no solution, and the answer was a resounding No. You rightly blame the government for not doing enough about this.

We also asked about foreign policy.

An overwhelming majority of you is against having any contact with the FARC and against conflicts with Colombia and the US. Fewer of you (though still a majority) think Venezuela should not subsidize the oil purchasers of its neighbors, although many agree with using oil money as a diplomatic tool, to a certain degree.

An overwhelming majority think the Venezuelan government exaggerates US efforts to destabilize it, while most of you are weary of the power Cubans have over our country.

Most of you agree that this government is a record-breaker when it comes to corruption, while many of you recognize that corruption is embedded in our culture. On whether a petro-state such as ours can ever solve corruption, you are split down the middle. When asked whether you would pocket public funds if given the chance, seems like 80% of you lied...

Sadly, it seems like a slim majority of you thinks that corruption has now become part of our culture.
We then went back to asking about Hugo Chávez. 61% of you think he will leave office in 2013 or sooner - 41%, think it will be when his term ends in 2013, and 20% think it will be before then (we should have asked how!).

A good 20% of you are resigned to the idea that Chávez will die as President, although technically he could die before 2013, so. I guess this question could have used some better wording...

We then asked about Chávez and violence. Most of you feel that Chávez would resort to violence if he needed to, but curiously, most of you also thought that many in the Armed Forces would resist this strategy. When asked whether Chávez is calculating or crazy, a slim majority of you lean toward "crazy" as the appropriate adjective.

We then asked about the opposition and their actions in the last 5-10 years. Remarkably, although a good 40% believe the CNE stole the Recall Referendum that the opposition had won, a large majority of you (80%) think that boycotting the Legislative Elections was a mistake.

Most of you also regret Chávez did not get a one-way ticket to Cuba on April 11th, 2002, and you agree that the opposition has still not learned the right lessons from the past 10 years. Most of you (76%) also think that we would have been better off if cooler heads had prevailed in the opposition leadership between 2001 and 2005.

Your feelings toward the opposition's leadership are complicated. On the one hand, you disagree with the notion that the opposition is in bed with Chávez and with the idea that they should all merge into a single, unified party. On the other hand, you think the opposition has not grapsed that Chávez will not leave power voluntarily, and therefore that they should rally behind a single leader. Sadly, you feel that leader is not up to the task yet.

Not surprisingly, a majority of you (60%) think the opposition deserves all the criticism they get and then some. Finally, your expectations on the coming elections are that we will win between 9 and 10 governorships and 139 mayor's office.

Thanks again to everyone who participated!

Got data?

Quico says: So Juan Cristobal and I have been working on a bit of a research project ahead of the November elections - nothing too fancy. We have, however, found it tremendously frustrating tracking down good, usable, disaggregated data, so we've decided to ask for help.

INE's useless. Its website looks like it was designed by trained monkeys: a national disgrace. They give out a reasonable amount of information disaggregated by state, but almost nothing at the municipio or parroquia level.

We figured somebody in the reader community must have data like this, or know how to get it, so why not ask?

What we're specifically looking for is:
  • Household income data at the parish-level (or, if that doesn't exist, municipal-level)
  • Data on poverty, however defined, at the parish-level (or, if that can't be had, municipal-level)
  • Average years of schooling per adult, disaggregated to the parish level (en su defecto, municipal)
  • The land area of each parish - so we can calculate population density. (Amazingly, INE simply doesn't just publish this, and Google isn't finding it either.)
That's our wish list, but basically we'll settle for any data on social conditions that's disaggregated to the parish (or, second best, municipal) level. Anything we can use as a proxy for poverty or rurality will make us very happy. Dengue infection rates? Percent of households without proper plumbing? We're pretty stumped here, so we're not picky.

Consider this a cry for help. If you have it, or you know someone who has access to it, or you know someone who knows someone...please write in.

The Long View

Quico says: After a (too-long) hiatus, Lucia decided to write us a post. Hurrah!

Lucia says: Expressing optimism about Venezuela’s political opposition can be a lonely proposition. But we’ve finally reached a point where a little hope may be justified – perhaps for the first time since Chávez was elected. And it was the victory of the No! vote in December 2007 that made this moment possible.

But let’s start earlier, with Chávez’s ascent to power, which burnt the existing political system to the ground. Even for those horrified by Chávez, it was hard to weep for AD and COPEI. The clichés -- rotten, out-of-touch, selfish -- were well-earned.

Yet think for a moment about other countries with two-party systems: if those two parties were destroyed after decades of dominance, how long would it take for effective new political parties to rise from the ashes? Could forces (new and old) with long histories of antipathy create a coalition in the face of a common threat? Would that process look pretty?

Well, it certainly hasn’t been pretty in Venezuela. The process by which new parties have emerged, and reached tentative accommodations with older powers, has been painful and riddled with mistakes.

After the 1998 tsunami, the immediate power vacuum in opposition land was filled by those who had long sat at the table anyway – the media, the money, and the anti-Chávez unions – some of whom had noble intentions, none of whom wanted their comfy status quo threatened. And as young, new political actors and the remnants of the old order struggled to counter the power of Chavismo, there was no question that the people with access to the airwaves and the cash were in charge.

But most of these folks were unwilling to understand the new world in which they were operating. They wanted to use rhetoric and strategies that appealed to their base, ignored the strength of Chávez’s support, and – perhaps most crucially – left out the center, those who were wary of Chávez but just as wary of radical tactics, or of anyone/anything that reeked of the past.

This new opposition tried non-electoral strategies first, which conveniently did not require broad political consensus. Then, reluctantly, they turned back to the ballot box in the Recall Referendum. But still, they were ill-equipped to deal with a changed electorate – the opposition was unwilling to support the new and (at the time) very popular Misiones, but also unwilling to offer attractive alternatives. Unfortunately, no lessons were learned from this failure to court the Ni-Ni’s, because cries of fraud replaced the soul-searching that normally follows an electoral beating.

Years in the wilderness followed, with opposition elites either ambivalent about or downright hostile to further participation in elections. And when you don’t have elections, why, you don’t need the voters, do you? In this distorted universe, Marta Colomina and Alberto Federico Ravell mattered more than the millions of non-polarized voters out there looking for a fresh alternative.

For many long years, and especially as it pursued non-electoral strategies, the opposition has been captive to its most radical elements. They couldn’t even acknowledge the need to win new supporters -- for a long time, and for many opposition elites, just admitting that the opposition did not have already have majority support was tantamount to treason. Those opposition leaders who did understand reality, and accordingly wanted to court the center, were taunted as “comeflores” and considered too “weak” to lead. Those who tried both red meat for the elites and the activists along with the occasional focus on reconciliation or issues for the Ni-Ni’s found themselves with support from neither.

But the December victory changed everything. The opposition was (typically) divided about participating, if you recall – with the reactionaries (Súmate among them, sadly) making noises that sounded an awful lot like the pre-Asamblea elections withdrawal. The passionate students played a crucial role here, shaming them into taking part.

And then, lo and behold, victory.

A strange one, true, and it’s hard to claim that the CNE behaved honorably, but nonetheless, a victory – for Venezuela, and for those who always believed that even when the terrain for elections is lopsided and fraught with difficulty, it’s better to participate than to abstain.

Especially if, you know, you consider yourself a democrat.

Things have changed. Time was when it was an article of faith that accurate polling and contestable elections are impossible in Venezuela. Remember the fear factor? Now, opposition elites are relying on polls to select their own candidates! No longer can actual Venezuelan voters be left out of the equation.

For many of the candidates this year -- at least those who are running outside of opposition bastions -- this should prove to be a moderating influence. Freed from the energy-zapping abstention/participation debate, they can finally talk about the things voters care about. One hopes that, as the painful, lengthy, self-centered process of choosing unity candidates draws to a close, they will move quickly to do just that – new and growing discontent with the regime certainly provides plenty of fodder, and plenty of issues everyone except hard-core Chavistas can rally around.

So, the next time you’re engaging in the popular, lazy sport of opposition-bashing, spare a thought for the difficulties opposition politicians have faced. Not only have many of them started from scratch, not only are they politicians in a country with especial disdain for those in public life, not only do they face false charges and persecution, not only are they opposed by an unscrupulous, charismatic incumbent awash in oil profits – they’ve also had to ask, all too often: do we cater to those calling for blood, or to those who want unity and reconciliation? Do we appeal to voters and get demoted by the powers-that-be, or do we appeal to the opposition activists and alienate the Venezuelan middle?

It seems more and more that these questions are out of date. Finally, finally, the radicals have lost some of their power. And whatever happens come November, this can only be good.

Diosdado at Delphi

Quico says: This from my inbox:
I had one of those "Quico moments" when listening to Diosdado on the radio (was it today? probably...). Let me see if I've got it straight: Diosdado says that there are no "inamovibles" among the government candidates for 23N. anyone whose campaign fails to take off will be ditched in favour of whoever looks like the favourite.

Let's leave aside the minor detail that there's only a week to go before the inscripciones close, so if they're going to do that, they really should do it pretty soon...

What about the fact that these are the same people who boasted how democratic their primaries were, how el pueblo got to call the shots, how the opposition was so undemocratic and unconstitutional that they relied on POLLS (shock!!) to determine who their candidates would be.

How is Diosdado going to decide whose campaign has taken off, I wonder? Is he going to read entrails? Is he going to consult the Oracle of Delphi? Will he seek divine inspiration? Because I'm positive he's not going to rely on POLLS to decide who's in the lead.

Puzzled in Caracas

August 5, 2008

Nickname cheat nails it again

Quico says: For the second time this year I find myself compelled to translate one of Kico Bautista's columns. The guy is good.

In a way, Kico is the anti-Yon Goicoechea. Whereas Yon comes across as substantive, brave and clearheaded when he speaks, but totally empty in print, with Kico it's the exact opposite. Today, he puts into emotional words the kinds of theories political scientists only know how to communicate in jargon:
The Sanction
by Kico Bautista

Public opinion needs to come up with a way to sanction those opposition politicos who, despite being behind in the polls and breaking their word, think they can go on to the bitter end. I don't mean burning them at the stake, electro-shocking them or taking them to the firing squad. I just mean we need to find a way to put them in their place, rap them over the knuckles and see if we can get the message through to them.

They deserve everything but tolerance.

Whether it's on purpose or not, they work for the other side. It would be comforting to see them strapped to a chair and forced to watch Aló Presidente on a neverending loop.

You might call it a kind of torture, an act that violates all human rights, maybe. That's not the issue here, though. The issue is you've got to have some way to badger the thick into line.

It's not my theory. I took it from Colette Capriles, that very smart social psychologist who writes in the papers and shows up on the radio and TV shows to tell us about that brain-twister that is politicians' behavior.

Colette says our country's basic problem has been in trying to consolidate institutions, among other things in response to this weird phenomenon that happens in the opposition and is a constant in Venezuelans' behavior. People don't keep their words, don't follow the law, or even the stop lights, or anything else.

And since the politicians, those who govern, don't keep their campaign promises, society comes to understand that lying is normal, even healthy.

That's why we're in the mess we're in.

On January 23rd a deal was signed that was more than logical: it was necessary. And we have a lot to lose. Nothing guarantees that we will win most of the mayoralties or governorships. It's an issue of discourse, of policy. Right now, our best shot is to pool our strength together: we have none to spare.

We can't afford to give a pass to those who, for whatever reason, put their interests ahead of those of the collectivity. It's true that, little by little, we've managed the hard, painstaking task of building our unity.

We need the confidence of knowing we've managed it. But that's not enough. We need to set a precedent, we have to establish that those who break with the poll results will be made to pay a price by the grassroots, and a high one.

Those gentlemen mustn't get a single vote. We have to leave them out on their own, to make sure they don't get interviewed anywhere, that nobody contributes a cent to their campaigns. We need to get tough and play hardball, just like they do.

It's no little thing that's at stake. Chávez feeds on our mistakes. The guy never loses his bearings, and he wants to finish us off. He took a step back on the Intelligence Law and the school curriculum thing, but now he's on the offensive again. He must have sensed our weakness somehow.

If we don't defeat him roundly on November 23rd, he'll bring back the idea of indefinite re-election.

Chávez knows that his stay in power depends on having his messianic streak ratified. He is the leader, the illuminated. He was sent by God to bring us to that kingdom of happiness he calls Socialism of the 21st Century. It's just the old trick of the egomaniac who makes up some noble cause so he can govern forever.

So? Then? Are we supposed to be all "understanding" for these misunderstood gentlemen who refuse to abide by the outcome of recent surveys. "Oh, I went out on the streets and saw the energy out there"; or "well, I'm behind now, but in two or three...years I'll be ahead"?

I'm sorry if this offends you, but too much of what we've criticized Chávez for is stuff you're carrying around in your heads. There are no excuses. There was enough time for each of you to work out your mise en scene. The time is now. Our slogan is: "not a single vote for those who aren't in the unity camp."

Chávez vs. the Calendar

Quico says: Hugo Chávez has racked up an impressive list of enemies over the years, everyone from José Antonio Paez to Homer Simpson. This time, though, he's really kicking it up a notch, taking on that icon of theocratic oppression: the calendar.

The 26 decree laws published yesterday came out in a Gaceta Oficial Extraordinaria that was dated...four days earlier! July 31st was, conveniently enough, the last days when his powers to legislate by decree were still in force.

Obviously, a true-blooded revolutionary like Chávez was never going to let himself get bossed around by some imperialist contraption like the Gregorian Calendar. As far as we can tell, the guy's still running on the Julian - which runs 11 days behind. In a way, that Gaceta's post-dated by a week.

You just know what his next big reform is going to be now, don't you?

August 4, 2008

Top Oppo Targets

Quico says: Here's the good news: the opposition stands to make big gains in November's local elections. Why? Because the current crop of incumbent mayors was elected in November 2004, in the depth of the opposition's post Recall Referendum funk, the absolute worst time for us.

Deeply demoralized oppo supporters simply didn't turn out to vote in numbers. Worse yet, the oppo parties failed to hang together, causing a costly split in the oppo vote in a number of important places.

As a result, lots of "natural" oppo territory ended up under chavista management. In fact, just 11 out of the nation's 45 key urban municipios elected oppo mayors in 2004. Those tend to be either smallish "Sifrino Enclave" municipalities (Chacao, San Diego, Lecherías) or in Zulia (Cabimas, San Francisco, Ciudad Ojeda). In fact, the only big city we won in 2004 was Valencia.

Today, oppo mayors run municipios that account for just 2.8 million urban people, while 12.9 million people live in government run urban municipios.
Click to enlarge

The first thing that jumps out at you from that chart is that there's just a lot more oppo blue on the right hand side than on the left. At the municipal level, we have lots of space to grow.

Of particular interest are are the 14 municipios that elected chavista mayors in 2004 but then went against constitutional reform in 2007.

These places are the oppo's best hopes in November, the real races to watch:

Click to enlarge

That, my friends, is what you call a target rich environment. Almost, every big city municipio is on that list: Maracaibo, Petare, Barquisimeto, Barcelona/Puerto La Cruz, Maracay, Caracas, Ciudad Bolívar. Only Ciudad Guayana and Maturín are missing.

Note that under "2004 Oppo" I'm only listing the votes that the top oppo candidate in each race got that year. In many cases, though, the opposition was running two, three or even four candidates in a given race. Which is why, when you add them all together, you get just 471,000 votes: barely more than half what MVR's winning candidates got.

Just three years later, the oppo turned out 1,576,000 people to vote "No" in those same 14 municipios. Which underscores once again the absolute centrality of agreeing a single candidate per municipio.

Provided unity holds, the oppo really should do well. Tomorrow, we'll know how many of these municipios will have those all-important unity candidates. Over the next few months, we'll be keeping an eye on these races.

(Hat tip to Virginia for up-to-date demographic data. Sad how the population is growing faster in chavista areas than oppo areas, huh?)