Saturday, December 23, 2006

The last stand of the fools 

On December 3rd Hugo Chavez won a decisive victory of the his opponent in Venezuela’s presidential election. In fact, Chavez received the largest percentage of the vote ever in Venezuela’s democratic era.

Given the fact that it was a clean and audited vote, and that the international observers saw that it was a clean vote, his opponent Manuel Rosales, did the honorable thing and conceded. In fact, the Venezuelan opposition took a big step forward by recognizing the outcome of the election and vowing to continue forward working within the democratic system.

Of course, there are always going to be some holdouts (dead-enders as some people would refer to them) and this case is no exception. And it should come as no surprise that two of them are Wall Street Journal Op-Ed writer Mary Anastasia O’Grady, and Gustavo Coronel.

How could they possibly impugn the legitimacy of Chavez’s mandate you ask? Lets have a look from last O’Grady’s Op-Ed piece from last week:

Defining Democracy Down


15 DEC 2006 Over the course of five days in Caracas last week, I couldn't help but notice the ubiquitous image of President Hugo Chávez peering down from hundreds of his campaign banners that read "Vote against the devil; vote against the empire." The nationalistic message denouncing President George W. Bush and the U.S. blanketed the capital.

On election night, as it became clear that more votes had been cast for Mr. Chávez than for candidate Manuel Rosales, the president appeared on the balcony of Miraflores, the presidential palace, to proclaim that "the devil who tries to dominate the world," had suffered another defeat.

The red-clad Chávez dramatically recited from the Lord's Prayer and then borrowed from it for his own prophesy. "Thy kingdom come," he bellowed, and thereafter, "the kingdom of socialism." The ailing Fidel Castro reportedly sent a short message from Havana congratulating Mr. Chávez and noting that "the victory was resounding, crushing and without parallel in the history of our America."

Mr. Chávez has for eight years been heading a devoutly anti-American government and he is widely considered the region's heir apparent to Fidel. But be prepared for the Venezuelan bad boy to become even more menacing to the U.S. now. The reason, in a word, is "legitimacy." Having gone through an electoral exercise against candidate Rosales, who managed to garner nearly 40% of the vote, Mr. Chávez is likely to be emboldened by the conventional notion around the region that he heads a "democracy."

This is regrettable. There isn't a shred of evidence to support the claim that Venezuela has a democracy and voices for freedom are badly needed to point out this reality.

Really, not a shred? An open and contested elections count for nothing? Freedom of speech and freedom to organize count for nothing? An opponent who has the backing of the great majority of the private media doesn’t signify anything?

Already it is clear, this should be interesting!

The assault on Venezuelan democracy, which began before Mr. Chávez came to power, has been possible largely because of state corruption. But the Chávez government has taken the concept to a whole new level. In this space last week I cited a report by Gustavo Coronel, a former director of the state oil company. His paper, "Corruption, Mismanagement and Abuse of Power in Hugo Chávez's Venezuela," published by the Cato Institute, deserves a fuller airing.

Mr. Coronel, who was the Venezuelan representative for Transparency International from 1996-2000, has painstakingly traced the "hypercorruption" that is now flourishing as a result of record oil income, poor management, and the "ideological predilections" of a president trying to "play a messianic role in world affairs." In 23 pages he neatly shows that Mr. Chávez, who claims to represent the progressive left, is nothing but an old-fashioned authoritarian otherwise known in Latin America as a caudillo.

For those wanting to read the whole sad spectacle of Mr. Coronel’s “report” it can be found here. In it he spouts all sort of absurd accusations with no substantiation. In fact, do read the end notes – the source for his accusations often turns out mainly his other articles posted on various opposition internet sites. Some times he does have other sources though – such as the “MilitaresDemocraticos” web site, and the owner of the BBO Financial Services firm, a one Miguel Octavio!! Try not to hurt yourself laughing

The report properly notes that government corruption is "the violation of public interest for personal or partisan gain," a definition that goes beyond graft to "the use and abuse of political power." Chávez corruption includes the 1999 constituent assembly, which was packed with his supporters and given supraconstitutional powers to dissolve the country's democratic institutions and create new ones made up of pro-Chávez actors. "This ended with all Venezuelan political institutions under the control of the government and eliminated effective checks and balances," Mr. Coronel writes. "From that moment on . . . Venezuela ceased to be a democracy."

Here, Coronel/O’Grady claim that the Chavez government has been illegitimate since the beginning due to the way it modified the constitution. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Every “I” was dotted and “t” crossed in making the changes legitimate. The Supreme Court of the time, which was not named by Chavez and was generally opposed to him, ruled that a referendum to create a constituent assembly for purposes of changing the constitution and government was completely legitimate.

The referendum posed the following question:
“Should a National Constituent Assembly be convoked with the purpose of transforming the State and creating a new legal order that will permit the effective functioning of a Social and Parcticipative Democracy?”

This referendum passed overwhelmingly and the rest is history. Clearly it was completely legal and legitimate as it had the blessing of both the existing Supreme Court and the Venezuelan people.

Since then the government has used its unchecked power to "spend" the country's oil wealth arbitrarily and without any accountability. Using the data from the Center for Economic Research in Caracas, Mr. Coronel identifies $17 billion in Venezuelan "donations to politically friendly countries," various infrastructure projects around the region and weapons purchases. Bolivian President Evo Morales, who famously used street violence to bring down two elected governments, got $30 million on a visit to Caracas in January. "According to the Venezuelan Central Bank," Mr. Coronel writes, "about $22.5 billion has been transferred to accounts abroad by the Chávez government since 2004." Some $12 billion of it, he says, remains unaccounted for.

This is where the BS starts coming fast and furious. Coronel never once tells us what makes up that $17 billion – he simply refers us to the “Center for Economic Research” where there is no breakdown of it either. On the billions that have supposedly disappeared abroad his source is an interview in Veneconomy (expensive subscription site which therefore can’t be accessed) which opposition “economists” Asdrubal Ontiveros and Jose Gurra, the latter famous for accusation of huge fraud at PDVSA which turned out to be completely false.

Mr. Coronel notes that "according to Transparency International 95% of all known public contracts are awarded without bidding." In a country where the state owns the oil and the oil is the economy this means massive politicized fraud. False invoicing and the signing of contracts with "nonexistent suppliers" are among the tricks of the trade and explain why the country is witnessing the "emergence of a new rich 'revolutionary' class."

What is funny here is that he references Transparency International as if it were some objective and independent outside source, when it fact HE was its representative in Venezuela for years (he now lives in Virginia so I guess he had to give that gig up)

The politicized Supreme Court, National Electoral Council (CNE) and state-owned oil company PdVSA no longer have any transparency obligations. The CNE, for example, has not allowed an independent audit of the voter registry, which contains almost 17 million names, "a statistical improbabilty" in a country of 26 million, "60% of whom are too young to register." With Chávez carte blanche comes power to destroy political enemies too. After a PdVSA strike to oppose the politicization of the oil company 20,000 skilled employees were fired in violation of Venezuelan labor laws.

Things get even better here. First he say the CNE hasn’t allowed any independent audit of the electoral roles. This is a straight out lie as CAPEL audited them a year ago and found them to be acceptable for use in elections.

In fact, when some opposition University Rectors examined the voting rolls they didn’t find any political bias or errors that would favor one side or the other.

The Coronel comes with the howler that it is “a statistical improbability” that 17 million people can be registered to vote when there are only 26 million Venezuelans and according to Coronel 60% are too young to vote. First, this is not a typo, the moron really did say that, it is on page 12 of his Cato report. Yet when you look up the actual numbers you find that more than 70% of the population is over 15 which means it is probably around 60% which is over eighteen and can therefore register to vote, not 60% being too young to register as Coronel in his ignorance asserts.

Also, the assertion that PDVSA is lacking in transparency is also false as its audited financial statements are here to be read.

Drug trafficking through Venezuela has also boomed under the Chávez government and there is good reason to believe the military is involved. A May report for Jane's Intelligence Review by Andy Webb-Vidal contains an interview with a former Colombian guerrilla who knows how to get illegal substances into Venezuela: "Once across the river, the [Colombian rebels] would make a payment to the National Guard and then transport the drugs in four-wheel drive vehicles."

It is interesting that O’Grady, of all people, would bitch about Venezuela being a potential transshipment place for drugs bound for the U.S. She herself knows making drugs illegal simply corrupts governments and police forces throughout the world when the real problem is people in the U.S. consuming these drugs. [As an aside, I’ve often wondered by what right the U.S. complains about other countries not controlling their borders and letting drugs pass through. At some point all the drugs cross the U.S. border. If the U.S. with all its technology and resources can’t control its own border how can it expect poor countries to control their borders? Typical gringo hypocracy IMHO]

Just days after the election, Mr. Chávez took off on a South American tour to exert his regional leadership as a man chosen by the people. His aircraft was escorted by the first two of 30 Russian-made warplanes that Venezuela has recently ordered. Back home his government had just announced a joint venture with Iran to make cars in Venezuela.

Ok, here I am cornered. The fact that Venezuela would plan a joint venture with Iran to produce cars sure is compelling evidence democracy doesn’t exist in Venezuela. I knew democracy had gone down the tubes in the U.S. when Walmarts started filling up with toys made in communist China.

Venezuela is not a democracy by any definition and Mr. Chávez is sure to be a thorn in the side of democrats for years to come. But legitimizing his abuse of power, in face of all the evidence, only makes things worse.

Unfortunately Ms. O’Grady’s rant didn’t really teach us anything about the state of democracy in Venezuela. But it did teach us that she and Coronel are fools, by any definition. And liars to boot. Then again, we already knew that.


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