February 21, 2009

And the Design Contest Winner is...

...99ideas, for this stunning layout:

Click to enlarge.

It still has to be coded, so it won't be up right away. Still. I'm really excited about it. I think it looks great. Thank to everyone for your feedback, it really helped a lot.

February 20, 2009


Quico says: We're so used to hearing the word "coup-monger" tossed around indiscriminately as an all-purpose slur against government critics, we're pretty much inured to it by now. Perversely, the wanton overuse of the term makes it easy to forget that, back in the early morning hours of April 12th, 2002, there really was a hard core of civilian and military conspirators who went fishing in troubled waters and very nearly made off with complete control of the state.

Few of them had a higher profile than Allan Brewer Carías, who along with his Hollywood-villain moustache spent that night milling around the Army's General Command in Fuerte Tiuna, is widely credited with writing at least the "considerandos" in Carmona's decree, and by all accounts was knee-deep in the conspiracy.

So why the hell is The New York Times running this mind-blowingly vacuous interview he gave on Sunday's referendum?! Set aside the sheer colominaesque banality of Randy's Ranting - complete with the standard, oligophrenic charge of "totalitarianism" - and focus on the editorial decision itself. Is the Gray Lady absolutely determined to lend credibility to the charge that, in Venezuela, oppo = coupster? What does it take to get removed from the ranks of polite company in New York these days?

Weak, weak, weak, weak, weak! Dr. Brewer Carías...buy a car-wash or something. Please. No nos ayude más, compadre! Seriously.

February 19, 2009

The designs just keep coming...

Quico says: I am loving this 99designs thing. Two new designers have joined the fray. Check them out here and here.

And another one...

Quico says: Designer #1 - he of the eye-busting yellow-pollito theme - has recanted his chromatic folly and resubmitted. Have a look:

World's Weirdest Scam

Quico says: A hearty congratulation goes out to Alex Dalmady, only guy I ever met who's blown the top off a multibillion dollar fraud. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, so I want to go on the record saying I used to hang out with him before he became an international media darling!

The underlying story is truly bizarre. Apparently, a very large percentage of Stanford's fraud hit Venezuelan investors. We're talking billions, perhaps as many as $5 billion out of the $8.5 the Antiguan bank had in deposit, though nobody knows the exact number.

At this point, I have many more questions than answers: have you ever heard of a Cricket-promoting Texas-billionaire who specializes in swindling Antiguans and Venezuelans? How can it be that a fraud that was operating in 130 countries ended up focusing such a high percentage of the losses on just ours?

There are a ton of rumors going around of Chavista big fish getting hit hard by this scam, but it's all rumint so far.

And then, there's one very obvious subtext here that nobody seems to want to acknowledge, ABCNews has started to look into. There is only one reason off-shore banking got so big in the Caribbean in the first place: money laundering. And there is indeed some evidence that Stanford was involved in helping Mexico's Gulf Cartel launder its money.

Hmmmm, lets review the bidding: ...dodgy Texans...off-shore Caribbean banks...Venezuelans who are suddenly gazillionaires and are looking for places to invest...massive profits that vanish into thin air. These are not hard dots to connect, and if Clodosbaldo Russian's EEG ever registered anything beyond a persistent vegetative state, I'm sure he'd have no trouble.

But we shouldn't forget that Stanford was running a Fogade-insured retail bank in Venezuela alongside its scam-laden Antigua operation. And not every Venezuelan taken in by the Antigua scam was an obvious crook: in fact, the only people I know for sure to have lost their money are normal Venezuelan savers, not chavista pesados.

It's all incredibly murky: where this goes from here, I can only guess.

Help me choose

Quico says: We now have four proposals for the blog redesign.

Designer #1:

Designer #2: JoeComins

Designer #3: DeUitvreter

Designer #4: AlfredMS

February 18, 2009

The Caracas Chronicles we need [Updated again!]

Quico says: The first redesign proposal has been submitted on 99designs. Click here to have a look. Click here to give the designer feedback.

UPDATE: A second designer has thrown his design into the rink. Check it out.
UPDATE II: And a third designer...
UPDATE III: Design #4

The opposition we need

Quico and Juan Cristobal say: Yesterday we had an interesting but somewhat circular discussion about the ills of the opposition. Though much huffing and puffing ensued, we failed to reach a consensus and were mostly talking past each other. This happens, I think, because we're hung up on the problem. We'd be better off focusing on the solution.

Typically, when we discuss our screwed up opposition, we start with the here and now, asking, "what's wrong with the opposition as it is, what makes it so ineffective at fighting Chávez?" The discussions that follow can't go anywhere because they can only tells us why we don't want to be here, but they can't tell us where we want to go, much less how to get there.

So maybe we should work backwards instead, starting out imagining what an opposition able to really take the fight to chavismo would be like and then retracing the steps it'll take to get us there.

This brings us to questions that, for some reason, we almost never hear asked. If the opposition was serious about putting a real challenge to the Chávez regime, what would it look like? What would its organizations and its structure be like? How would it be different from how it is today?

To my mind, the opposition organization we need will have five characteristics that the current opposition lacks. It needs to be,
  1. National
  2. Organized
  3. Credible
  4. Connected
  5. Well-funded
1. National
First off, the opposition we need is national in scope. An opposition that only operates in a few big cities (Caracas, Maracaibo, Valencia) is not enough. Just remember, last Sunday our win in Miranda was more than offset out by chavismo's win in Trujillo, our win in Zulia was totally cancelled out by chavismo's win in Guárico. Fully a fifth of chavismo's edge came from Portuguesa alone...I mean: Portuguesa!!

The opposition just can't afford to have "dead areas" like this, whole regions that we just tacitly hand off to chavismo because we can't organize there.

While the opposition's absence is most visible in really rural places, it's easy to forget how absent we are even from much of urban Venezuela. In fact, only 10 million Venezuelans live in the 8 biggest cities, meaning that a further 10-12 million urban Venezuelans live in towns and small cities with populations between 20,000 and 400,000. We're talking places like Charallave, San Carlos, Carúpano, Valera, and any number of others that the Caracas-based oppo political class just doesn't talk to.

The opposition needs a nationwide presence, a nationwide reach and a nationwide strategy to get beyond the patchwork approach it has now. Howard Dean had his 50-state strategy. We desperately need a 24 state strategy!

2. Organized
Second, the opposition we need has to step up to the plate and start competing with chavismo in terms of organization. We will, of course, never have the resources to match chavismo's petrostate control, but we can certainly do better than we have. Ahead of Sunday, chavismo had a proper ground game, patrulleros, people knocking doors in every town, barrio and caserío in the country. They ran robocalls. They had guys out in trucks with loud speaker. They were doing retail politics, hard, all over the country.

In other words, chavismo had the organization to put together a coherent nationwide groundgame. We had Aló, Ciudadano. Yes, we were outspent, but in the end the gap on this score may have been as much about volunteer organization as about money. Partly because it has no nationwide presence, the opposition could only rely on a fractured, patchwork response, with different groups running different activities in the places where they happen to be strong, but nobody really running a coherent national ground game.

3. Credible
A third thing Chavismo has and we need is credible messengers. In their case, they have just one credible messenger: Chávez himself. Like him or loathe him, when Chávez speaks people listen, he commands the respect of the room. Always has.

We have nobody like that. This is not personal - I have no reason to doubt that people like Henry Ramos Allup and Julio Borges are absolutely fine human beings. But they've just lost the battle over their own branding.

Unfair as it may be, most swing voters look at them and think "oh gawd, not these dinosaurs again!" They've simply been around too long, even the newish ones, to command the respect of a room. The messages they read out almost don't matter, because they don't have the credibility it takes for ni-nis to listen to any message that comes out of their mouths.

4. Connected
In fourth place, the opposition we need connects with people with a new message that's tough but positive, couched in unapologetically moral language that's not afraid to call bullshit on chavismo's catastrophic utopianism. Hurricane Feces should make this theme easier to sell, but we still need to develop it, stepping away from the language of technocatic, unthreatening, post-Plaza Altamira apologetics and start telling people "look, chavismo socialism is socially, politically and ethically bankrupt for you for reasons X, Y and Z." We need to find the kinds of words that connect with people's real values and aspirations, appealing to their better nature, without patronizing them or lying to them.

5. Well-funded
Finally, the opposition we need has some money to put all of its plans in action. Our funding efforts are virtually non-existent, and we haven't even begun to tap the power of the Internet. An effective campaign is expensive, and part of the job of opposition leaders leaders - hell, part of the standard with which they should be measured - is in terms of how they bring the cash in. In the last campaign, we had no money. They failed to do their job, so they must assume responsability.

Those are the five ingredients, that's the thing to shoot for. You could sum it up in one phrase. What we need is,
A well-funded national organization with credible leaders able to connect with people
Shortcuts won't do. Four out of five is not good enough. Take an attractive message and put it in the mouth of a leader who lacks credibility or a national organization and you don't connect. Instead, you end up with...Mi Negra! Take a credible leader and set him loose without an attractive message or a national organization and you end up with...El Conde del Guacharo! Take a rock solid organization that has an attractive message but lacks credible leaders or a genuinely nationwide presence and you end up with...the Student Movement! Take a well-funded organization that fails to connect with people and you get ... Súmate!

The reality is that we need to advance on all five fronts at the same time.

That's what we need to take on Chávez. To really take him on. We need to visualize it, to imagine what Venezuela would be like, how profoundly different 2012 could be, if we headed into that election with a well-funded national organization with credible leaders able to connect with people.

Until you know where you're going, you can't tell if you're on the right road or not. If our (well-founded) critique of the current opposition is not to peter out into the usual torrent of anti-politics bile, we need to get clear on what we do want, not just on what we don't want.

It's only once you know what the ultimate goal is that it becomes possible to work backwards, tracing a line back from your objectives to the things you are able to do right now to achieve them.

It becomes, in a sense, possible to reverse-engineer the opposition's program: to start with your goals and set out programs to achieve them, rather than to just bitch.

February 17, 2009


Quico says:
Agree the opposition needs to shed its dead wood?

Join the Facebook Group!

Elections have consequences

Juan Cristobal says: You know the old saying, "elections have consequences"?

Well, I think we need to put it in practice. What's it going to be? Who lost this election? Who's gonna take the fall for this one?

Omar Barboza (who, in case you didn't know, was Blanca Ibañez's handpicked governor of Zulia back in the 80s) - your time is up.

Julio Borges should step down from the helm of Primero Justicia.

Luis Ignacio Planas - Gracias por sus servicios...piiiiiiip!

Henry Ramos Allup - here's your Witness Protection Program packet.

The students - back to your books.

Alberto Federico Ravell - how about focusing on telling the news as they are?

Maria Corina Machado - can't Sumate be led by someone else?

Seriously people. What we have ahead is too crucial to be doing the same things and trying the same old message.

I'm not saying we need to reinvent the wheel. I'm not saying these people can't play a public role - they can. I'm saying the opposition should introduce accountability.

Maybe that will help convince the voters that, indeed, we can be better than Chavez.

Redesign this Blog!

Are you a web-designer?
Know any good ones?

JC and I have decided Caracas Chronicles needs a professional makeover.

We've launched a contest on 99designs, an innovative crowdsourcing site that allows anyone to bid on a design project.

We're offering $400 to the winning design...and we intend to give you, the reader, a vote on a pre-selected shortlist!

This should be a fun thing, bringing CC's visual identity up to par, finally.

So if you know anyone who might be interested in submitting a bid, please send them the link to our design brief on 99designs.

February 16, 2009

I just called to say you love me

Quico says: Imagine you were a ni-ni, or a government employee, weighing whether or not to go out and vote yesterday. The phone rings. Who could it be, bothering you on this lazy Sunday afternoon?

"Compatriota, es Chávez..."

Believe it. According to Descifrado, echoing a story from El País, robocalls made their grand debut in Venezuelan politics yesterday.

In what would be a direct borrowing of a GOP campaign tactic by President Chávez, millions of his supporters picked up their cell phones yesterday to hear that voice reminding them to go and vote for "la Venezuela bonita."

It's kind of demeaning, really. Pol Pot never had to call the peasants. Stalin never had to grovel to his comrades like this. But Chavez - he's on TV, on the radio, and now he's in your phone, too. He knows where you are.

You just gotta imagine the look on the face of your average government bureaucrat picking up the phone to hear...him! It's disgusting, but also kind of brilliant. And it highlights the impossible odds we were up against yesterday.

Hat tip: Juan Cristobal.

More Excel Fun

Quico says: Interestingly, last night was, in a way, the opposition's best result ever: 5 million votes is well more than had ever voted for our side before, while 6 million votes is 1.2 million below chavismo's high water mark. (And the Grammy for grasping at straws for good news goes to...)

Both sides increased their vote tallies relative to 2007. It's just that chavismo increased its tallies much more than we did.

Click to enlarge

We actually got less votes than last time in six states (Aragua, Cojedes, Delta, Guarico, Portuguesa and Sucre) - that only happened to chavismo in one place - Táchira. But chavismo had strong gains in much of the rest of the country, and positively slaughtered us in places like Aragua, which went from pretty red to deepest crimson. Our best states, in terms of improvement from last time, were Táchira and Anzoátegui.

Chavismo's were Amazonas, the Delta, where nobody lives, and Portuguesa, where they shredded us.

A Tale of Three Elections

Quico says: So I've been thinking of new ways to visualize the data from last night's massive bummer. I thought comparing them to the 2007 referendum and last november's regional elections might be interesting.

In the next couple of charts, "Oppo 2008" includes dissident chavista gubernatorial candidates. Click on any of these images to enlarge them...

And this is the same thing expressed in percentage terms:

These next two charts call Zulia, Falcón and Lara "Noroccidente", Miranda, DC and Vargas "Gran Caracas," Yaracuy, Carabobo and Aragua "Centro", and treats Guayana as part of "Oriente."

This next one focuses just on the gap between the sides in each region.

Chavismo improved its performance over the opposition's 2007 showing in every region. It turned a 163,508 deficit in the Northwest into a 25,000 vote advantage, an 8% improvement over 2 years. It also turned a 144,586 vote shortfall in Gran Caracas into an 80 vote (literally, 80 people) lead in Caracas - a 6% improvement. In the Andes, chavismo did just 4% better than in 2007.

But where it improved the most was in the Center of the country - particularly Aragua, wher we got shalocked - and the rural areas. In the Centro, the government added 230,483 net votes, a 12% improvement over its own performance of 15 months ago. Proportionally, it's the Llanos that really came home for Chávez: the 164,914 net gain over his result of 2007 represent a 15% improvement over his showing then.

Tentative morning-after conclusion? The urban rural split is getting deeper, not shallower. And Aragua is a weird place.

The concession speech you didn't hear

Juan Cristobal says: - If I were in charge of the opposition (hear hear!!), I would demand my concession speech was carried on cadena nacional.

Before you scoff, think about all the effort the government put in forcing the opposition to commit to respecting the results. Somebody in the opposition should have taken his word for it and said, "Fine, we'll concede, but as long as you give us a cadena." Who knows? They might have said yes.

I would then have conceded, but said something that touched these themes, themes that need to be a central core of our message in the coming months and years:

"Desde ahora comienza la batalla para revertir este resultado y volver a enmendar la Constitución para que la democracia continúe siendo una realidad para todos y para que la tolerancia y la alternancia en el poder que soñó el Libertador en el Discurso de Angostura prevalezca."
One of the things our message has been lacking is punch. Even when down, Chávez sounds threatening. But we manage to sound defeatist even when we win! Is it possible that our meekness is working against us?

Show some sack folks! There are four years left in Chávez's term and an economic crisis in our hands. It may be hard to tell, but the winds are actually shifting in our favor. If we recover the AN we could change the Constitution back. Plus, 5 million dejected people voted for you - they need for you to throw them a bone, give them a little bit of hope. It would also be nice to take back the Liberator as a symbol for all.
"Venezolanos, muchos de ustedes votaron por la esperanza que representa Chávez. ¿Ustedes quieren saber qué es el socialismo que promete Chávez? Esperen unos meses, cuando todo suba de precio, cuando suba el desempleo, cuando Chávez no pueda cumplir sus promesas, cuando los Mercales y los Barrio Adentro comiencen a cerrar. Cuando sigan los malandros matando sin que nadie se preocupe. Eso es el socialismo chavista - ineficiencia y corrupción. Cuando eso suceda, cuando la decepción del socialismo chavista se haga evidente, aquí los recibiremos con los brazos abiertos. Porque aquí no hay ni escuálidos, ni vendepatrias, ni pitiyanquis, ni fascistas ni golpistas. Aquí lo que hay son hermanos y hermanas. "
The opposition needs to tackle the ideological battle in Venezuela straight on. So far, Chávez has tried to frame socialism as a lovey-dovey free-for-all where poor is rich, rich is rich and we all get along.

BS. We need to start talking about what chavista socialism really is - a wealth-destroying machine that threatens to bring all of us down.

We are at the threshhold of a massive economic crisis caused by Chávez's reckless policies and, yes, socialism. We need to hit him back with that, and there is no better place to start than with a high-profile speech that many chavistas are bound to be watching.
"No crea, Sr. gobierno, que estamos desarmados. La revolución está armada, pero nosotros también, y si ustedes quieren morir por la patria, pues nosotros tambien. De usted depende que esto no explote - sea sabio y entienda lo que le conviene."
This gets back to the meekness theme, but also goes a bit further.

Chávez loves to talk about how there would be a civil war without him. We need to tell him straight on that, yes, civil war is not impossible in Venezuela, but it depends on him, not on his absence, and that we are not afraid of him nor of it.

Too many times it seems like we're trying to run from the legacy of Plaza Altamira and appear as more comeflor than we really are. It comes across as dishonest.

Perhaps we should tell the government we have our own locos desatados, and that they have their guns too. No use in denying they exist - everyone knows they do, and the government should know we can't control them.

But aside from that, it helps to get the message across that Chávez does not have the monopoly on crazy-bravado talk. Two can play that game.
"No crea, Sr. gobierno, que el pueblo se come el cuento de que nosotros estamos en contra de las misiones. No lo estamos! Estamos en contra de la corrupción en las Misiones, de los módulos de Barrio Adentro que no funcionan, de los hospitales que están por el piso, de los regalos al extranjero, de los dólares para los ricos y para los conectados del gobierno, de los Mercales con estantes vacíos mientras que los buhoneros y los militares matraquean al pueblo, de Misiones que prometen empleo pero no dejan nada, de la falta de vivienda. Las misiones han ayudado, pero el pueblo venezolano merece más!"

"Pero sobre todo, deje de mentirle a la gente metiéndoles miedo. No estamos en contra de las misiones, estamos en contra de la exclusión, de la corrupción y de la idiotez a la hora de formular política social. Queremos misiones, pero misiones sin ladrones y sin exclusiones."
This idea that we are against the Misiones may be hurting us with crucial constituencies. It's not enough to say "it's not true" - we need to spell out what our vision is with respect to social policy. No, we are not against them, but no, we are not for them either. I'll be posting on this particular topic in more detail in the coming weeks - the opposition needs a "Misiones" policy, but more importantly, it needs a "Misiones" message.
"Mañana comienza la próxima batalla. El reto de la oposición es conquistar la Asamblea Nacional en el 2010 para imponerle la tolerancia y la convivencia a un gobierno que se cree dueño de todo. Queremos una Venezuela donde quepamos todos, donde todos tengamos una voz en la mesa."
This is the crucial part. The National Assembly elections are all that matters for the year and a half. If the opposition doesn't get its act together for this, it may be our last chance for a very long time. It would be nice if they began talking about primaries or some way in which they can work out the details of presenting a unified platform.

Seriously folks. It's back to the drawing board.

February 15, 2009

First Official Bulletin: Sí 54.4%, No 45.6%

At 9:30 pm, the National Elections Council says:

Sí - 6,003,594
No - 5,040,082

With 94.2% of tally sheets accounted for.

It's really not a surprise. If you control the question, you control the answer.

Chavismo's real problems start tomorrow.

Epilogue from Our Man in Catia:
We're leaving the polling center. Tibi gave the results and Chavez is shouting the national anthem on the radio. Everyone is in a commotion because a motorcyclist has just been shot in the head and killed near this polling station. His name was Ismael and it seems many people knew him. Before I left, I told one of the Chavista, member of the mesa, that I was afraid that today we gave a blank check and too much power to a single guy, and that they day they wanted to change presidents it could be too late. Her reply: "el pueblo es sabio y paciente, nosotros sabremos pasar factura". I sure hope so.

Sí wins : 54% to 45%

Quico says: With 80% of the votes tallied, very reliable sources are confident. At 7:50 pm Caracas time, we're calling it: Sí will win by a wide margin.

Our Man in Catia [UPDATE VIII: 7:21 pm - Sí wins but loses ground slightly]

Our Man in Catia says:
My mesa: 229 Sí (56.2%), 172 No (42.2%), 16 nulos for atotal of 417 which matches the cuaderno.
In 2007, that center voted 57.7% in favor of Sí, 42.3% for No. (CNE never reported the null votes from 2007.)

Our Man in Catia [UPDATE VII: 6:45 pm]

Our Man in Catia says:
6:45 pm: Just spent talking 10 mins with the other witness for the SI, and talked politics. Freddy is a 35 year old father of 4 and owner of his own clothing store in La Hoyada who supports Chavez. He dressess very smart, wears cool glasses and is articulate. He defines himself as a non-active member of the Psuv who only mobilizes when there is an election as a witness.

A summary of our exhange:

Me: How can you support Chavez if you own your own store; your not worried about private property?
Freddy: That's a lie, Chavez is not against private property, only against some type of private property: monopolies that exploit people.
Me: But Chavez is just replacing a private monopoly for a state monopoly?
Freddy: But it's different, state monopolies redistribute the wealth.
Me: but are you really better off today?
Freddy: Yes, several times better, economically, socially, etc. I've made all my money the last 10years, and before Chavez I didn't even have money to pay for public transport.
Me: But how much of that is the result of high oil prices?
Freddy: Oil prices have nothing to do with it, with another president even with oil at $5,000per barrel, we wouldn't feel the difference. Maybe in your area in the east of the city you haven't felt the difference, but here in my barrio, the increase of our stanard of living has inreased several times. Before I couldn't go to a public hospital and not that hospitals are any better now but at least they do look after you and if not we have Barrio Adentro, where my children are treated with respect and love by the cubans. Even this week I went to a private hospital where I was paying and I was mistreated by the doctor, in Barrio Adentro that doesn't happen.
Me: But don't you get angry with the money he's giving away to other countries?
Freddy: But he's not giving away anything, he is paying for help, look at the cuban doctors that costs money. The problem is that the radicals of both side take over the debate, and all you hear is the noise, but in reality, we the base, are not represented by those radicals.

In all, Freddy is just like me, a father of 4 (I'm a father of 3) looking after was best for their family. But obviously we can't agree what is really the answer that will secure our families future. Still he's someone I wouldn't mind having a beer with and trying to convince anyway.

That's it, I'm hitting the bottle...

Gewurztraminer 2007, from Alsace. It's nice and spicy, cinnamon-scented. I suggest you do the same...this is going to take some time.

Seijas has Sí ahead comfortably

Quico says: We can confirm that IVAD's (Seijas) exit poll, commissioned by interests close to the government (but not by the government itself), shows the Sí ahead by 7-9 points.


Quico says: I'm posting this on behalf of Juan Cristobal, who's been talking to his contacts in the opposition. Word is, chill. The rumors going around right now are just that, rumors. It looks close. Turnout appears to have been relatively high. But they have no specific numbers yet.

Also: CNE head Tibisay Lucena calls an end to voting.

Our Man in Catia [UPDATE VI: 5:50 pm - Subdued Atmosphere]

Our Man in Catia says:
5:50 pm: No one came today dressed in red with the Si slogan to vote. Only one guy, came with a Psuv cap and a red shirt, but he he was very respectful and was carryng his cap in is hand hiding the logo against his chest. He was also carrying his son, a two year-old approximately, and was voting with pride. But the norm was ordinary peolple, just doing their duty, no pride, no shame, just doing their duty.

Curioser and curioser

Quico says: On UnionRadio, the No-campaign headquarters sounded like a massive party, Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro sounds like he just came out of a funeral. (¿¿¡¿!?!???) Polling centers close in 11 minutes.

Leopoldo López Very, Very Nearly Claims Opposition Victory

Quico says: Under National Elections Council rules, neither side is allowed to say anything about results until the council itself unveils its first official bulletin. Still, on UnionRadio just now, opposition Golden Boy Leopoldo López spoke in not-particularly-veiled tones about seeing results that are "very very similar to what we saw on December 2nd, 2007" (when the government was defeated in a similar referendum). He's talkin' all David and Goliath, waltzing very, very close to the line of claiming victory outright. Bravado? Bluff? Who can tell?

Jorge Rodríguez recommends the opposition make itself a camomille, López prescribes valerian root to the government. Wacky.

Our Man in Catia [UPDATE V: 4:41 pm - Psycho Mesa President]

Quico says: One longtime Caracas Chronicles reader is working as a No-camp witness at the Escuela Nacional 24 de Julio in Catia (by Plaza Sucre Metro Station), in deep red chavista territory in Caracas's West Side. In the last referendum in December, 2007, this voting center went for the Sí by a 58% to 42% margin. Three months ago, PSUV's candidate for Metro Caracas mayor, Aristobulo Izturiz, beat the opposition's Antonio Ledezma 61% to 36%, with 60% turnout.

Our Man in Catia has agreed to discretely email sporadic reports from his blackberry.

Photo added 4:00 p.m.

12:26 p.m.: Everything's OK, although the Presidenta of my mesa is a pain in the neck. She wouldn't allow me to verify that the Cédula (ID card) of the voter was in the cuaderno de votación (the voter registry). This was a mayor hassle and the coordinadora of the CNE and Plan República came up to my table. My position was that I couldn't be a witness of the process if I wan't allow to have a look. She said I was obstructing the process. I then said I wasn't going to impose but that I requested we made an Acta that said that they would'nt allow me to verify this, but they (the presidenta and the coordinadora) wouldn't allow that either, it was getting very tense when a National Witness came up with a compromise; I was allowed to check one cédula at random every 10 to 15 voters. At least there appears to be mechanisms to resolve disagreements.

Of 550 voters in my mesa about 250 have voted already.

1:15 pm: A red truck with booming loudspeakers and a Sí sticker drove in front of the center making a call against abstention. The volume was unbelievably high!

2:05 pm: It's a bit slower now, might be because it's lunchtime. The school I'm working at is right in the middle of Catia. The streets are narrow, filthy and full of people out on a Sunday. It's more like a scene from an outdoor market, with buhoneros selling all sorts of things from little tents: pirate DVDs, clothes, fruit.

The school is not small. It's clean but pretty much run down. From the classroom where I'm working I can hear the odd vendor announcing their goods through loudspeakers.

I can't say people seem very excited about being here, either to work at the voting center or to vote. I chatted a bit with the witness for the Sí-camp. Her name is Isabel and she's a nurse who lives in Catia and works in Barrio Adentro. She was quite frank with me and said that she couldn't care less what the result turns out to be; she had to be here as an obligation, because she doesn't want to risk losing her job so, just in case, she comes and works as a witness, and votes (Sí).

This is the first time I meet someone who thinks like this. In a polarized society like ours, it's weird to meet people who couldn't care less what the result is, who would rather stay home, but vote for the government "just in case". She says "there's only one government, I worked for the government and I have to vote for them just in case I get found out". I tried to explain to her that the government and the state are two separate things and that she works for the state and the government is temporary. I don't think she cares about that either.

The members of my voting table are very quiet except for the President, a fierce and authoritative lady. I can't say they lean either way, but the Presidenta sure likes the sound of her own voice. After our last confrontation when she didn't want to allow me to stand next to the Cuaderno that logs the people's ID, and I almost got kicked out by Plan Republica she's a lot calmer. I gave her some Marilu cookies as a peace offering which she accepted and laughed about.

I just saw from the classroom window a red pickup truck with several guys with red shirts and red flags with the Si slogan all over. I asked the witness for the Sí-camp whether this was not allowed and she said "Yes, they are not allowed to do that but who is going to stop them?"

It's 2:05pm and 307 of 550 people have voted.

3:33 pm: Already we have more turn out at this mesa than last November. 359 people have voted whereas last time only 345 voted.

We were all offered food by the CNE, a very simple spaghetti with platano in an aluminum foil box. It was funny to hear the Presidenta of the mesa complain about the food and say she would rather get an allowance so she could go to McDonalds instead. Deep in Chavista territory, they have a taste for the food of the empire...

4:19 pm: A funny thing just happened. I'm just a newbie on this but we had to read the official regulations (reglamento) yesterday to be somewhat prepared.

Some time ago one of the mesa members announced that at 5pm we should do draw lots to choose the mesas to audit. But the rules say that this can only be done after the voting is finished, the actas de escrutino are printed and the results are transmitted to CNE.

So we called the CNE center coordinator and she also said it we should draw lots at 5pm. I explained that art 112 says that we have to wait until the results are transmitted and the blank stare in her face was a classic.

She said she was going to look into this and at a distance I checked she was reading the rule book. She agreed with our coordinator that we were right.

4:41 pm: I couldn't make this up if I wanted to: the Presidenta of my mesa is the worst of the whole center. All my other collegue witnesses in the other mesas are verifying cedulas with the mesa members. Not my Presidenta. But the funny thing is that my coordinator explained she is very well known here in Catia as a "landro", which is a new word to me but it appears it means she is the owner of about 50 buhonero (street hawker) stands in the area. Capitalism is alive and kicking in deep chavista territory.
If you have any questions for him, put them in the Comments and I'll try to forward them to him.

Venezuela's First Twitter-Election?

Quico says: The folks at Twelección certainly think so.

little "f" fraud

Quico says: I didn't want to post my prediction earlier than necessary, but here goes. The only place where 12 year olds knock out Evander Hollyfield is Hollywood, and this ain't Hollywood.

So we're going to lose tonight. Probably by a lot.

The reason is straightforward; a polling cliché, really. Control the question and you control the answer. Not much more to it than that.

Even Penn & Teller know this:

In a referendum, framing is everything. Control what people figure they're voting on and you control the result. Even subtle changes in question wording can have noticeable impacts on polling results. More substantial changes in framing can have very substantial effects on the answers you get, as the Pew Research Center found out just before the invasion of Iraq:
When people were asked whether they would: "favor or oppose taking military action in Iraq to end Saddam Hussein's rule," 68% said they favored military action while 25% said they opposed military action. However, when asked whether they would "favor or oppose taking military action in Iraq to end Saddam Hussein's rule even if it meant that U.S. forces might suffer thousands of casualties," responses were dramatically different; only 43% said they favored military action while 48% said they opposed it. The introduction of U.S. casualties altered the context of the question and influenced whether people favored or opposed military action in Iraq.'
To pollsters, that's old hat.

We know Chavismo wrote a deliriously partisan ballot question, and that in itself would probably be worth a few points to them today. But more importantly, they enjoyed a hugely disproportionate share of the resources used to frame the referendum's meaning in voters' minds'. I've written a lot about this recently, so I won't go over it again here.

Long story short: the fraud's already happened. We're playing with a marked deck.

I want to be clear about what I mean by this. I have no doubt that the results announced by Lucena tonight will accurately reflect the actual votes cast by people at the polls today. As I've explained many times before, you can't get away with numerical fraud where paper ballots are checked against electronic results.

So no, there will be no capital "F", old-school, ballot-stuffing Fraud. But little "f" fraud? It's signed, sealed and delivered.

The Sí will win by a comfortable margin tonight. 10 points, easy. Possibly more. I hope I'm wrong. But I know I'm not.

The existential problem for chavismo starts tomorrow, not today.

A Better Way to Spend Referendum Sunday

Quico says: Typically, I waste election days obsessively following news sites and radio feeds that tell me nothing beyond that "the winner is Venezuela," to pick just one of a dozen hoary broadcasting clichés sure to be repeated ad nauseam today as talking heads struggle mightily to fill 12-16 hours of nothinghappening.

This is a monumental waste of time and worry energy, so instead, I propose a Better Way to Spend Referendum Sunday.

Check this out:

What's cool is that the software used to make this presentation is available online! This, my friends, is quality time-wasting: addictive and educational to boot. Here's the one I made...make your own, and be sure to post it to comments.