December 6, 2008

El problema es saber cómo quererlo sin que se arreche

Quico says: Once every long while, a piece in Spanish strikes me as so incisive, so well-judged, so indispensable, that I'll bit the bullet and translate the thing.

This latest one is by Laureano Márquez. The original in Spanish is here.
Chill, dude!!!
by Laureano Márquez

Could it be the water? Some medicine that's not settling with him? Is somebody checking up on that? Is he eating alright?

I'm seriously starting to think the Agency has somebody very close to him who is hurting him. Seriously. This isn't normal. Even you, my dear friends on the other side, must have realized something is happening to him. He's not ok. This "decisive victory" has really left him worse for wear. Defeat might have been better; another win like that will be the end of him.

I imagine folks on the other side are becoming aware that somebody in such a state is a danger not just to those who oppose him (who, in any case, already knew what they were in for) but fundamentally to those who care for him (who haven't realized it yet.)

The problem is figuring out how to love him without setting him off. I imagine the tortured calculus they must go through, scrutinizing his face to try to guess on which side of the bed he woke up that day: "What if he thinks I'm sucking up too much because I'm hiding something?...or that I'm not sucking up enough because I'm going dissident? to accept his support without being crushed by it? I decoding the meta-messages right?...have I gone too far, or not far enough?..."

In the end, that's no life, no matter how much cash you might be sitting on. The stress must be terrible: how would you know when he's going to fly off the handle at you? Spending your life waiting for the other shoe to drop must be simply hideous. There's no way to sleep peacefully knowing that, on any given night, he might pick up the phone and call you in the middle of a bout of creative insomnia just to chew you out, to tip the dump-truck of his failures over on you.

It might just be an ancestral hatred of Christmas. It puts some people in a bad mood. The ways of the subconscious are strange. In my case, for instance, I hate cheese because, when I was little, they used to beat me with a mozzarella stick. If I ever make it to power I will ban cheese in all its forms. Maybe this page of the calendar is just no good for him.

Those closest to him should try to lighten the load for him. Do secret santa with him. A year end office party...something, really, anything!

I know that these humble thoughts don't reach so high up, but in any case, reaching out is never wrong: calm down, daddy-o! Relax. Life is short and lovely. Christmas is a time full of wonderful things: toys for the kids, family gatherings, messages of peace and brotherhood between people. Believe it or not, people want just a bit of tranquillity over these next few weeks. Work out the transition, you don't have so long anymore. Be happy and let us be happy...but more than anything, chill, dude! And don't play dumb...

I'm talking to your, George W. Bush, did you hear?

December 5, 2008

Electoral headaches

Juan Cristobal says: - Possible scenarios, even if we win the vote on the Constitutional Amendment.

Scenario 1: As explained here, Chavez loses the Referendum. Three months later, he brings it up again. If he fails, he asks again in three months. He keeps going and going until he gets his way.

Scenario 2: Chavez loses the Referendum. He resigns. According to the Constitution, the Vice-president takes office, and in thirty days new elections for President are called. The winner finishes the current term. Chavez runs again, is elected, and he claims he can then run again in 2012 because, technically, he is in his first term of office. The TSJ agrees.

I get a migraine from just thinking about this stuff.

December 4, 2008

"Fascist" is the new "pitiyanqui"

Quico says: I sometimes think you could write a history of the Chávez era just by tracking the buzzwords Chávez has used over the years to deride his opponents. Every year or two, the guy seems to change up, fine-tuning his messaging by picking a new slur and running it into the ground like a bad SNL catchphrase.

The table of contents of that book would look something like:
Chapter 1: Puntofijistas (1998-2000)
Chapter 2: Escuálidos (2001-2002)
Chapter 3: Golpistas (2003-2004)
Chapter 4: Apátridas (2005-2007)
Chapter 5: Pitiyanquis (2008)
Chapter 6: Fascistas (2008 and beyond)
It's a progression that, in its own way, tells the story of chavismo's ideological psychopathology, an ever morphing catalogue of demons whose names change to suit the political demands of the moment.

Way back in the day, the fight was against the old Punto Fijo elite - so that was a pretty obvious one. As the opposition made its first, tentative steps towards getting organized, the target morphed, and the guy started making fun of our, at the time, paltry support. After the April Crisis in 2002, we got the most ironic slam of them all, kettle-and-pot-wise, as we became coupsters and, all of a sudden, being a coupster became the worst possible thing a human being could be. Later, as Chávez got more into the anti-imperialism shtick, the big charge became our lack of loyalty to the fatherland. By the start of this year, he figured out an even more direct way to paint us as CIA lackeys in a single word.

Each time, the enemy changes without anyone quite explicitly acknowledging it has changed, and the fight goes pretty much as before. After all, Eurasia has always been at war with the pitiyanquis.

Now, he's changing up again. Call it the Obama Effect. The guy can see that, come January 20th, linking us to the US is going to be a lot less potent than it has been, so he's throwing caution to the wind. All of a sudden, we've become Fascists.

I think we all know there's only one place he can go from here...within a year or two, the guy's bound to break the one universally recognized law he's actually sort of respected so far: Godwin's Law.

At that point, in accordance with recognized custom, the Supreme Tribunal will have no choice but to step in, declare that he's automatically lost the argument, and boot him from power for good.

When Quico met Arianna

Juan Cristobal says: - Let's give a big shout-out to our very own Quico, who is now blogging about Venezuela in The Huffington Post's new "World" section. Read his first entry here.

Fellow bloggers include Queen Noor of Jordan, John Kerry, Johann Hari and Joseph Nye, so it's going to require a massive effort on the part of the rest of us to keep Quico's ego in check.

Bits & pieces

Juan Cristobal says: - A few disjointed bits of information on the transfer of regional power from chavismo to opposition mayors and governors.

- I've been talking to people involved in several transition teams, and the stories shed a light on the nature of chavista bureaucracy. Several sources in different teams confirm many in the outgoing flock are looting laptops, desks and even staplers. Schools were closed after the election and, in some cases, the new people still can't find the keys. Vacations have been decreed without further notice. A relative of mine got a call from someone selling him a laptop belonging to the Maracaibo Mayor's office for a few hundred bucks. Add to that the fact that many of the employees have either quit or are unwilling to work for an opposition administration, and you have a pretty grim picture. Though it's not been uncooperative everywhere (apparently, things in Municipio Sucre have not been bad), it's been pretty bad overall.

- My sources in the transition for the Miranda state government asked some of the people in the outgoing administration what sorts of social programs and guidelines they had at the state level. They said they had none. When pressed about where they got their policy guidelines, they simply shrugged and said, "Alo, Presidente. What mi Comandante says, that's what we implement."

- The federal government has stripped the posts won by the opposition of many of its responsibilities at the last minute. The Caracas Mayor's office, for instance, lost most of its schools and hospitals, although I hear that may not be a bad thing because, with the schools and hospitals, the government inherits the enormous debt and payroll expenses.

- Today, I'll be on the radio, 1pm Eastern time in the US. Tune in here, or here. Chamo Times is the name of the program.

December 3, 2008

My oil minister went to Cairo, and all I got was a lousy Constitutional Amendment

Juan Cristobal says: - One has to wonder if the decision to recklessly plunge ahead with the Constitutional Amendment had anything to do with the disastrous emergency OPEC meeting held in Cairo last weekend. According to reports, the countries could not agree to reduce output amid plunging demand for oil and tanking prices.

This New York Times report talks about the group having a "frayed message," saying there are "unmistakable signs that the group was struggling to maintain unity." It goes on to say,
Signs of tensions remain. The Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, are unwilling to approve further trims before other members follow through on previous commitments to reduce output, particularly Iran and Venezuela.

Analysts said the Saudis wanted to show just how serious it was about all cartel members sharing the burden. Even as the Saudis appear ready to play hardball, OPEC is laying the groundwork for a more coordinated approach.

The US, Germany and Britain are officially in a recession, and the Saudis are not playing nice. When your cartel is in disarray and your customers are finding it tough to make ends meet, the situation is serious. Chavez realized this and came to the conclusion that, when it came to the Referendum, it was now or never. Hence, the timing of the announcement and, more importantly, the haste.

PS.- Don't miss this fantastic op-ed piece from Teodoro Petkoff. Outstanding.

December 2, 2008

The Chávez Minority

Quico says: Here's one to mull: What kind of person votes for a PSUV candidate for governor, but not on the PSUV ticket?

It's a question that'll be ever more relevant in the coming weeks because, while PSUV candidates won 52.7% of the vote for governor 10 days ago, Chávez's party ticket got just 46.7% of the vote.

We're talking about the 20% of voters in Lara who backed Henry Falcon, but not the PSUV ticket. We're talking about the 10% of voters in Monagas who backed El Gato Briceño, but not PSUV. And the 7% of Aragüeños who voted for Rafael Isea off the PSUV ticket.

Nationwide, 6% of voters backed PSUV candidates but not on the PSUV ticket. Why would you do that?

To me, it's clear: 1 out of every 9 chavista voters wanted to make a statement. They wanted to vote for Chávez's candidates, but that doesn't mean they wanted to vote for Chávez. The gap between the PSUV candidates' vote and the PSUV ticket's vote is the measure of "Chavismo Lite". These are people who made a very clear statement: they're not about to write Chávez a blank check.

So, come referendum time, what's the relevant metric for Chávez's hardcore support? 52.7%? Or 46.7%? You tell me...

December 1, 2008

Marta, my muse

"I don't believe that democratic chavismo in any way agrees with these tactics, but the important thing is that they try to prevent such attacks."
-Marta Colomina, sounding almost blasé minutes
after her home was attacked by chavista extremists.

Juan Cristobal says: - With the Regional Elections over and the adrenaline rush subsiding, I've been finding it hard to post these last few days. December is here, after all, and who wouldn't rather think about Christmas than Chávez?

But the big man is having none of it. Sounding halfway between desperate and deranged, he's hinting that the Referendum on his indefinite re-election could come as soon as January.

Another election? So soon? Do I really need to drag myself away from the Christmas decorations and blog about all the ins and outs of yet another vote to cement his quest for perpetual power again?!

I tried to find the words, but just couldn't find the will to blog. As the great Muhammad Ali said, I got nothing.

Until today, that is, when a bomb landed in Marta Colomina's front yard.

Yes, Marta Colomina is still around, ever the journalist-cum-rabble-rouser, just like she was in the super-polarized days of 2002, when she carried the flag for partisan journalism and was planted front and center in the opposition movement's hero roster.

You wouldn't know it, though, because she long ago stopped being the cultural phenomenon she once was. A lot of water has passed under the river, as my dad cheekily likes to say, but she's still there. She got fired from Televen due to government pressure, but that didn't keep her from fighting the good fight, as I guess the rest of us do in our own little ways.

Well, today Marta got a little visit from the extremist chavista gang Colectivo La Piedrita, and it wasn't sticks and stones they were throwing, but rather tear gas canisters and pamphlets declaring her a "military target."

Suddenly, somehow, it all made sense to me: What Chávez wants is to run the old 2002 playbook on us again!

What else are the Colomina attack, the ridiculous claims that Governors-elect are doing away with the Misiones, the threats against Globovisión and against people like Manuel Rosales but a transparent ploy to bring back the climate of superheated political conflict we had back in 2002?

The game-plan is pretty clear, when you think of it. Chávez figures his best chance of winning a referendum is to stir the pot heavily. Why else would he bring back the "Uh, Ah, Chávez no se va"? As far as I know, nobody is seriously asking him to leave.

That doesn't matter, though, because he knows that to win the last war all over again, he needs to provoke a "fascist" reaction from our side.

But here's the beautiful thing: it's not working!

When even an erstwhile CNR leader and know-nothing antichavista extremist like Antonio Ledezma, now mayor of Caracas, respectfully asks to meet with the President and to work with him, you know we've turned a page. When even Colomina, doyenne of the hot-head opposition, sounds cooler than the other side of the pillow as she talks about an attack on her own home, you know the opposition has finally, finally wised up to the games Chávez plays.

So he will huff and puff and channel H.G. Wells, but it takes two to do the 2002 tango, and right now Chávez just doesn't have a partner. At the rate we're going, he's going to have to pay military officers to go camp out on Plaza Altamira and declare that they're rebelling against him (don't be surprised when it happens).

Without confrontation, without that electric "us versus them" feeling in the air, without going all out and saying that his is a revolution "of rich against poor", Chávez got nothin', too. In fact, reliable sources told me today that the last time Datanálisis asked about indefinite reelection they found only 25% of respondents in favor.

That's not to say he can't pull it off, just that his chances are looking slimmer than ever. Venezuelans are exhausted with all his imaginary battles, and the opposition has learned some important lessons. We're through with the casquillo diet. 2002 is soooo six years ago.

"Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"

Quico says: Yup, they're definitely doing this...

November 30, 2008

Surprise, surprise: Chávez wants a mulligan on indefinite re-election

Quico says: Bring. It. On!

Update: The more I think about it, the more I think Chávez is caught in a trap of his own making here.

Again, it's the oil cycle, stupid! He's doing this at the end of the oil boom, with the economy already overheated, inflation pretty much out of control, and public revenue drying up.

Chávez's instincts will be to beg, borrow or print the money he needs to ramp up public spending ahead of the vote. It's the only way he knows how to get NiNis and moderate chavistas to turn out and vote for a proposal they've never been crazy about.

Trouble is, ramping up public spending in an overheated economy where inflation is already out of control doesn't actually increase people's purchasing power: it just feeds straight into higher prices!

The populist spending spree tactics of yesteryear just won't work under these conditions. NiNis and moderate chavistas are not going to support a proposal that's all about his problems, not theirs, at a time when inflation is fast clawing back all the gains they've made in the last five years.

It's a loser, this proposal. Remember where you read it first.