Thursday, December 06, 2007

What now? 

With the vote on the constitutional reform now over, Chavismo having suffered a very narrow but important defeat, the question turns to what now. What exactly should be the Chavez led movement be looking to accomplish over the next months and years? And how soon should the type of reform that was voted on Sunday be revisited?

Of course, we can't completely answer that at the moment, the reason being that we don't know with any certainty why exactly the proposals were defeated. Still, we can have a discussion of what the general outlines for a path foward should be like.

The following of course will only be my personal opinions on what should be done. Others should feel free to give their own ideas. I suspect the best course of action will be some compilation of all our ideas.

Readers of this blog should all know that I tend to focus on the state of the economy and people's material well being. I consider that to be the determining factor in people's views of those who lead them. In this case that means that as long as Chavez keeps improving people's standard of living he will most likely remain popular, whereas should the economy stumble his support would be greatly weakened. Of course, other quality of life issues such as health care, crime, and education also play large roles.

For those reasons, my first recommendations would be that he put political reform and international relations on the back burner for a while and fix some long standing problems with the economy and crime.

With respect to the economy they need to find policies to further diversify the economy, which has more of an intermediate and long term impact, and they also need to deal with stop-gap measures that were useful at one time but now create too many problems of their own such as price and currency controls. This latter point is what requires more immediate attention.

At the same time, this issue of crime needs to be dealt with head on. It doesn't even need to be debated publically, there is no time for that. Chavez needs to seek out good advice and then act immediately. The population really needs to see some results on this front by the end of next year.

So those two things, fixing some festering economic problems and tackling crime need to be Chavez's primary focus until policies have been found to effectively deal with them - hopefully by the first part of next year.

Once those have been dealt with (but not until!!) Chavez should turn to things which would do much to help solidify the political movement he has built.

One item is the community councils. They truly are the political, social and economic heart of the new society Chavez envisions. So it needs to be known sooner rather than later how well they work and what sort of problems they will run into. If they prove to be unworkable that needs to be known soon so that alternative ideas can be sought out.

To that end, communal councils need to get their funding forthwith and their powers need to be expanded as rapidly as possible. Yes, some of that was supposed to be accomplished with the constitutional reforms, but those reforms aren't necessary to give the communal councils more power at the local level nor to expand their budgets.

We really need in 2008 and 2009 to see the councils trying to run neighborhoods, small towns and cities, and development projects. If they are able to successfully administer those sorts of things then the issue of reform to allow them to run things at the State level and higher can be revisted. Further, and I think this is very important, the more experience people get with these councils the more they will see their value (assuming they have value) and therefore the more comfortable people will be in giving them additional powers through future constitutional reform. The idea is they won't be as much of an abstraction as they were this time.

Finally on the communal councils they need to get up to speed in running companies. Given that this is an entirely new model of economic organization its viability needs to be demonstrated quickly, again so that alternatives can be pursued if these prove unworkable.

Just as important, Chavez's new party, the PSUV, needs to move foward quickly to become a real party. First, people have to be granted membership, right now they are all aspirants, not members, and its democratic structures have to be put in place. Once those structures are put in place allowing for the base to control the party, rather than it being yet one more of Venezuela's top down parties, it should immediately work out its program.

Having a democratically and participatory political party with a well defined program will help streanghen the movement considerably and give people more confidence in the movement. Up until now, what the exact aims of Chavismo are have never been clearly defined. Just as bad, there is no democratic party structure that would allow for new leadership to rise and flourish.

This probably leaves uncertainty in the minds of many people and allows doubts to arise as to the true intention of many things that can be interpreted in various lights (the elimination of term limits being an example). By having a clear program, a democratic political party, and diversified leadership chosen by the base more people would feel ownership over where this process is going and future reforms would, in my opinion, be much more likely to be successful.

So there you have my two phase, four point plan for moving foward

Phase I

1) Fix festering economic problems.

2) Deal with the problem of crime.

Both of these need to be solutions thought out with implementation begun before turning to phase two. If they focussed on they should happend by July 2008.

Phase II

3) accelerate the formation and empowerment of the communal councils.

4) accerlate the formation of the PSUV with full democratization of it, control by the base, and a full program developed.

An important additional point here is that revising the constitution would NOT be revised until all four of these tasks have been carried out.

The second phase would take longer but if pursued aggresively they should be able to see results with the communal councils by late 2009 or early 2010 with the PSUV formation coming even sooner. Even if these go a little slower and aren't completed until 2011 that gives plenty of time for them to be effective aids in ensuring the success of Chavismo with any planned reforms at that time and with the 2012 presidential elections.

So those are my four points on how the country can move foward and Chavismo can solidify itself. If these four tasks are all successfully completed the movement should be well positioned to continue its dominance of the Venezuelan political scene with either Chavez or new leadershop at the helm.

Of course, some may have other ideas. Good. Let the debate begin.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bitten in the ass by his own cowardice 

Reading through the comments section I am seeing that the revisionist re-writing of events has already begun. "People didn't understand the proposals", we are told. "Chavez didn't have the chance to fully explain them", say others. "The opposition lies carried the day", many seem to agree.

Really? Lets step back and make sure we accurately recall what happened.

First, if the proposals were "rushed" who should we blame for that? The A.N. could have taken more time to debate them. They could have had more public sessions. Yet they didn't.

Further, Chavez didn't even have to submit the proposals to the A.N. as quickly as he did. He could have waited, discussed them publically first, made sure people knew what they were, and made any modifications the general public seemed to really want. Yet he didn't.

That these proposals were so rushed wasn't an accident nor something that was unavoidable. It was a choice born of the same arrogance that we have been discussing recently.

Second, Chavez refused to defend his proposals publically. Lets recall, the opposition was crying out for a public debate. Yet Chavez refused.

Think about this. Instead of being ghettoized on State media, as some offer by way of excuse, he would have had an audience of millions and millions of Venezuelans watching a historic debate. Right then and there he could have called the opposition on all their lies and distortions. But he didn't.

And while we are at it lets put another nail in the coffin of this revisionism. THIS WAS KNOWN AT THE TIME. Remember this little post calling Chavez a coward for not debating? Read the comments and you will see plenty of excuses - chief among them that sure winners don't debate (well Chavez now joins Lopez-Obredor in seeing how that turns out)and that formal debates are some kind of anachronism from "liberal", as opposed to "revolutionary", democracy.

Yet we know hear the same people saying "people weren't educated enough about the proposals" as if Chavez himself wasn't to blame for that.

Sorry, but that just ain't so. The sad reality is arrogance and cowardice led the leadership of Chavismo to refuse to defend its ideas publically in front of their adversaries. That is something that should never happen, especially among people who claim to be revolutionaries.

So please, put down the revisionism and pick up the mirror. The first step to fixing what needs to be fixed is HONESTLY recognizing the problems. Because either Chavismo purges itself of this cowardice and arrogance or Venezuela will wind up purging itself of Chavismo.


Monday, December 03, 2007

What happened yesterday 

This is just a personal observation (and what Chavez said in an interview) in chronological fashion.

Noon to mid afternoon.

Chavez is winning the election, exit polls show the Si side winning by around 4-5 points, the opposition looks SCARED on interviews saying that the middle class participation was way too low, after the second student said this I knew the opposition was losing (and probably cheating for calling out a specific social strata but whatever), Students started a desperate GOTV campaign with loudspeakers caravans in upper class Caracas. Reuters gets a hold of this exit poll and publishes it, CNN also claims that by this point the Si was winning.

Mid afternoon - 4:00 PM

The trend reverses, evidently the opposition planned to vote late so they could stay for the audits afterwards. CNN said the exit polls reversed to the No.

4:00 PM- Late night

50% of the tallies are counted and the No side was winning by around 4%. The government decides to wait for more results to pour in. The Si block begins to look worried on TV, talking about how in defeat they still won, the opposition begins to behave triumphantly.

Late night - Very late night

The government realizes that the vote is way too close, even if they win with such a close result the instability would not be worth it, they phone the CNE and inform them that they would not challenge the result, any result.


Taking the arrogance out of the revolution (or getting rid of the Chavista echo chamber) 

Last nights photo finish election result certainly didn't lack for drama. But fortunately the outcome is not in dispute and President Chavez himself gave a lesson in how one accepts adversity.

The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that this is a very real defeat, but not a major defeat. Chavez still has five years on his term and won't see his current powers weakened in any way. Further, the notion that we now know he will definitely have to leave in 2012 is silly. Surely if Venezuela does well going foward and Chavez is popular this will be revisited. In fact, if this had been 2011 instead of 2008 and people were facing the immenent loss of Chavez (who lets remember is still VERY popular) these reforms would almost certainly have sailed through.

Also, it bares noting that although many, including this blogger, believed all along these reforms had major defficiencies they ALMOST passed. That Chavez played a losing hand so well confirms how popular he is. Further, as Chavez himself said, a narrow defeat is better than a narrow victory.

Finally, as someone who never thought much of these proposed reforms I'm certainly not losing any sleep over their defeat.

To me the really important part starts ... NOW.

The most important thing was for Chavismo to accept this defeat. That they did.

The second, almost equally important thing, is they can't run away from this defeat. They can't ignore it, or block it out of their minds, or claim it was just a bad day. Rather, they need to spend the next few months analyzing it completely and objectively, with everything on the table and no sacred cows.

Chavismo needs to take a good look in the mirror and of course this needs to start at the top with Chavez himself.

Over the past months many of the things that Chavez will see, if he is honest with himself, have been discussed here in this blog. Just to point out a few:

1) There are still very significant domestic problems that the Chavez has been unwilling to address - the issue of crime being front and center. There is a bloodbath on the streets of Venezuela and ignoring it or pretending it isn't that bad, which has been the strategy up until now, won't work and won't stop it from eating into his support. The issue of crime needs to be addressed without delay.

2) Spending half your time on foriegn affairs when your own country has so many pressing needs and unresolved problems probably isn't a good idea. Saving the rest of Latin America would be great and most all of us are for that. But to truly help others you first have to help yourself. An economically prosperous and powerfull Venezuela will be of much assistance to the rest of South America. A poor and underdeveleped Venezuela can't even help itself.

3) Fawning over tyrants and then not expecting people to be nervous when you do things like extend term lengths and make recall referendums more diffic is a little unrealistic. As we saw yesterday, it even makes a good chunck of your own political base nervous.

4) People who question your proposals are not necessarily traitors. I didn't like the role PODEMOS and Baduel ultimately played either. But think about it, did Chavez really give them much choice? When they raised their hands with questions and objections he branded them traitors, and worse. But were they really triators? Or simply canaries in the coal mine? Chavez needs to ask himself that question and answer it honestly.

5) And last (but not least, in fact, probably the biggest point) is you don't help yourself nor your movement when you surround yourself by people who are little more than sycophants. The level of subservience around Chavez and the unwillingness of people to stand up and say what THEY believe, rather than simply what they think Chavez and their other friends in the movement want to hear, is appalling. I can remember when I was happy that Jorge Rodriguez replaced Rangel as Vice-President - "Good" I thought "now there is someone energetic and hopefully with new ideas". Little did I know that he would spend all his time and energy trying to out Chavez Chavez. (and lets not even talk about Mario Silva who I can barely watch anymore).

Worse, this is not only among people who are in Chavez's inner circle or hold government positions. Amazingly it has spread to his supporters who at least in theory are free to speak their minds.

With out naming names it has shocked me over the past year to watch people who are very intelligent and whom I respect tremendously fall into a trance over Chavez. The worst profess to have absolutely no doubts over anything Chavez does, as if they were witnessing the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Others do acknowledge issues, but them over time become less concerned with them most likely because they surround themselves almost exclusively with other pro-Chavez which ensures they will only be swayed in one direction.

Some time ago someone coined the term "the opposition echo chamber" to refer to the Venezuelan opposition which listened only to itself and was therefore completely clueless as Venezuelan's kept rejecting it.

Now it would appear that Chavismo has its own little echo chamber. This is not entirely its fault. The fact that the opposition is so radical and that Venezuela is so polarized makes it difficult for many to listen to the other side. But you must always listen to the other side and see things from other perspectives. Otherwise you become inbred, arrogant, complacent, and overconfident.

And that it is somewhat understandable in no way makes it acceptable. Either Chavismo does away with its own little echo chamber, or that echo chamber will be the undoing of Chavismo.

As has been famously said - "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger".

This defeat by no means mortally weakens Chavez. In fact, it can make him and his movement much stronger. But only if he spends the next period analyzing this defeat, taking a good look in the mirror, and making the appropriate changes. That is not a painless process and no-one likes to go through it (which is probably why the Venezuelan opposition has NEVER done it).

But if Chavez walks the walk on this both he and Venezuela will emerge much better for it.


Creepy TV show last night 

I kind a knew the govt had lost around 11:30 PM, Aristobulo was on previously claiming the same thing Chavez was claiming on his press conference, how democracy was strengthened, victory even in defeat etc. But what really made me reach this conclusion was Mario Silva being docile afterwards, having a professor talking about seaguls and seeds falling into fertile ground and sometimes barren rocks???

Still during the wait it seemed that the result was inevitable, UNTIL the government decided to patently create SO MUCH DRAMA that I almost threw up prior to the climax/conclusion. First the CNR (old opposition) played their puppet parts by being histerical. REALLY histerical about waiting for so long for the results. Then came the bombshell, the NO block was barred from entering the tallying center for a crucial part of the election, then it REALLY blew open with howling and screaming and a dude literally biting his tongue in extreme frustration. Then I turned to the Hojilla and noticed Mario Silva talking about how their side was happy (showing a live shot of a rally) while theirs was melting down...

I think my blood preassure dropped significantly, it was bad and it was creepy. Thankfully I did not have to wait for Tibisai Lucena to speak before I saw a hint that this was just bad theater. The CNR was not arrested and they continued to mouth out their blah blah blah in front of the world media, nobody is that sloppy. Then came the obvious result with an ireversable seal of defeat, after that it was obvious that Chavez would have his magnanimous momment. He would never contest this.

Having thought it over, here is my serious review of last night.
-Electronic voting is a LIFESAVER, it was really commical seeing the opposition reminding us historical landslide results when everybody knows that they can be called easily with just a handfull of counted votes. In Mexico it took them WEEKS to get to the point we were last night (90%+ of the VOTES counted), and even the "ACTAS" were only counted up to 90% the morning after.

-Opposition leaders were gracious winners, the opposition rank and file were not, they are probably still scheeming for power but lets hope their new "leadership" keeps their word and put the later under a leash.

-Conspiracy theories are flying about this being a rigged election or rigged-sabotaged. Dubious given the transperancy of the vote, and the latter even more unlikely as the government has lost its strongest weapon in opposition incompetent weakness (the abstentionist camp is all but annihilated for now).

-The government knows how to win and how to lose.

-I really hope for a long period of reconciliation, most people here have it easy, you don't have to deal with the opposition folk 24/7, it really does create a wear and tear. I can now enjoy a christmas (not religious myself) in freaking peace. Its been a LONG while since that happened (though not entirely politics related).


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Towards the Red,Very Red Planet 

The no won. Chávez has accepted the defeat and the contra will still call him a dictator.But the struggle continues.

"La rectora del Consejo Nacional Electoral, Tibisay Lucena, emitió a las 1:14 am de este lunes 3 de diciembre el primer boletín oficial con los resultados del Referendo por la Reforma Constitucional propuesta por el Presidente Hugo Chávez.

Los resultados anunciados son:

Bloque A

Opción del No: 4.504.354, con 50,70 por ciento
Opción del Sí: 4.379.392, con 49.29 por ciento

Total de votos contados: 8.883.746
Total de votos nulos: 118.693
Total de votos escrutados: 9.002.439
Abstencion 44,39 por ciento

Bloque B

Opción del No: 4.522.332, 51,05 por ciento
Opción del Sí: 4.335.136, 48.94 por ciento "


The Bolivarian revolution, led by Chávez , now has more strength as its democratic credentials are very much in the open, making it more difficult for the national and international contra to maintain their campaign of  lies. Of course, it doesn't mean that they are going to stop. 
It takes a people educated and organized to really start to seize control of their political, economic and socail lives. After tonight Venezuela Bolivariana marches ahead coming out stronger. As a big part of the reform was excellent, I wouldn't be surprised  when the  majority  takes the initiative in implementing most of the reforms  themselves. After all their 1999 constitution guarantees that right.

The people are the only power that matters. And the on going struggle to bring the power back to the streets, where the people live, continues. 

As one of the great revolutionaries de nuestra América said,

"We're going to have to do more than  talk. 
We're going to have to do more than listen. 
We're going to have to do more than learn. 
We're going to have to start practicing and that's very hard. 
We're going to have to start getting out there with the people. 
And alot of times we think we're better than the people. 
And that's an insult and criminal. 
It's going to take alot of hard work." 

- Fred Hampton


Open thread 

Here is the election day open thread. Not that there will be much to talk about until probably 3 a.m. tomorrow but just in case :)

Let me say just one thing though. The opposition and their pollsters have been saying high turnout helps them. I really just can't believe that. Middle class people (ie, those who oppose Chavez) dutifully vote. Poorer people (ie, those who would generally support someone like Chavez) don't. So in my book, the higher the turnout the more likely this thing passes.

But, we shall see soon enough.

BTW, for up to date information check here.


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