Saturday, October 15, 2005

The December 4th elections: to be or not to be 

I was actually going to do my first analysis today of the Venezuelan legislative elections scheduled for December 4th. However, events have overtaken me and everything is now on hold. Currently there is a very important Supreme Court case regarding those elections they may significantly alter them and possibly lead to their postponement.

The issue before the court is whether or not the use of “morochas” by some political parties is unconstitutional. According to the Venezuelan Constitution elected offices are to be in proportion to the overall vote. So while there are Assembly seats that are elected by district there are also Assembly seats elected by list with a given party’s district victories subtracted from its list victories to keep its total number of seats won proportional to its percentage of the overall vote. But if a given party creates a second political party (ie the “morocha”) and runs only district candidates on one party line and list candidates on the other then the district wins won’t be subtracted from the list wins and the two parties – which are really one party – can get a disproportionate percentage of seats. In short, the “morochas” take a small victory and magnify it into a large victory.

The “morochas” were first devised and used by the former opposition governor of Yuracay state, Eduardo Lapi, to help the opposition win more seats in the last round of the legislative elections. The idea was then picked up by Chavez’s party, the MVR, and used in the local elections this past August allowing the MVR to win a greater amount of seats than it would have otherwise won (the opposition in the state of Zulia also used its own “morochas” and was successful with them). Given that the pro-Chavez parties are likely to get the greatest number of votes they stand to benefit the most from the “morochas” as it will magnify their victory margin and even give them a chance of getting a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly which they couldn’t otherwise get. So some opposition parties have brought suit to stop the use of the “morochas”.

The Supreme Court is to make its decision this coming Thursday. Just a superficial reading of the Constitution would seem to indicate that the “morochas” are unconstitutional and the opposition should win the case. The relevant clause is:

Article 63: Suffrage is a right. It shall be exercised through free, universal, direct and secret elections. The law shall guarantee the principle of personalization of suffrage and proportional representation.

Now lawyers could probably argue forever as to exactly what “proportional representation” means in this context. But I believe in taking these things at face value – which means that the electoral system in Venezuela has to be designed in such a way that if you get, say, 55% of the vote you get something very close to 55% of the seats. In that case the Supreme Court would have no choice but to rule the “morochas” unconstitutional and prohibit their use in the upcoming elections.

Now the head of the National Electoral Council, Jorge Rodriguez, has said that if that happens the elections may need to be postponed. And that would seem reasonable, after all if that is the decision then there will probably be a big and lengthy fight over which pairs of parties are really “morochas” and which are legitimate political parties. It’s unlikely that would be sorted out in time to allow for early December elections.

But those are just details. The main question is if their use is prohibited who wins and who loses. The obvious answer to that is that the opposition wins and Chavez and his supporters in the MVR lose. Whatever the margin of victory the MVR obtains, it won’t be magnified by the “morochas”. So if the MVR gets 55% of the vote they’ll get about 55% of the seats and not the 65% or 70% they may have gotten with them.

However, based on some preliminary analysis of the possible results the effect would not be that profound. Several weeks ago Ultimas Noticias did an analysis of the upcoming election. They assumed the same voting pattern as the regional elections from last year and worked out how many seats each side would win – assuming the use of “morochas”. The bottom line is that with that same vote the MVR and its affiliated parties would still come up 3 or 4 seats short of getting the highly desired 2/3 majority. So they would still have a simple majority, allbeit a larger one. So what will happen without the “morochas”? If the MVR runs an effective campaign (which is not a given at this point) they should still win and get a simple majority. So in this scenario the “morochas” aren’t decisive – the 2/3 majority is out of reach in any event and the primary thing at stake is the size of the MVR majority.

Based on this it doesn’t look like there will be earth shattering consequences not matter how the court rules on Thursday. It will though be better if the court upholds the Constitution and rules the “morochas” unconstitutional as it should (after all, the courts in Venezuela don’t want to be seen as blatantly favoring one side over another in electoral contests as they are in some countries ). And once they take this baby step who knows what they’ll do next. Maybe force political parties to hold primaries as is also required by the Constitution?


On other electoral matters there is some rather confusing news regarding a post election audit of the vote count. The CNE president, Jorge Rodriguez, has been widely quoted as saying that there will be a manual count of 1% of the boxes containing the voting confirmation receipts that the voting machines print. Yet at the same time he said that one box per voting center would be have its votes manually tallied. But if that is the case then it would be a lot more than 1% of the votes involved – there are certainly not 100% boxes of votes per voting center. In fact Rodriguez is quoted in the same news as saying in no other countries are 30% of the votes audited, implying that the Venezuelan total will be 30%. The opposition has insisted that 47% of the votes be audited. Hopefully this will be clarified going foward and I will update when it is.


Let the farce begin 

Today, October 15th, is the day when Iraqis are voting to either accept or reject a new Constitution. Quite frankly its not much of a vote. There is no outside independent monitoring of the vote. Whereas in the voting earlier this year they at least sent “observers” to Jordon it appears this time they are dispensing even with that.

The actual way a winner is determined in this vote has been changed twice in the last two weeks. The constitution hasn’t even been distributed to most people so voters are being asked to vote on something they have neither seen nor read. Further, in a desperate bid to ensure victory for the Constitution, the Iraqi puppet legislature in effect told Sunnis, who are those most inclined to oppose the Constitution, that this Constitution isn’t final and will somehow be revised later on!

But of course, just in case all of that isn’t enough there are good old fashioned efforts at vote suppression in Sunni areas:

Hours before a crucial referendum on a new constitution, voters in western Iraq, where many are expected to say "No," were asking themselves a troubling question: where are the polling stations?

"There are no voting centers in cities like Haditha, Hit, Rawa, Qaim, Ana, Baghdadi and the villages around them," Mahmoud Salman al-Ani, a human rights activist in Ramadi, said on Friday, listing locations across western Anbar province.

"There aren't actually any voting centers or even voting sheets in these cities ... Nobody knows how and where to vote if they decide to," he said of the predominantly Sunni Arab region.

Anbar, Iraq's largest province, runs from Baghdad to border Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia and is also the heartland of the Sunni-led insurgency. Much of the population is expected to vote against the U.S.-backed constitution on Saturday.

U.S. troops have run a series of operations across the province in the past three weeks, trying to hunt down guerrillas and prepare the generally lawless region for the vote.


"The Americans intended to isolate the cities in western Iraq to prevent the huge Sunni population from voting," said Thair al-Hadeethi, a human rights activist from Haditha.

In Ramadi, a group of residents said they had walked around their neighborhood looking for a voting center and not found one. Parts of Ramadi are essentially in rebel hands.


"This is a Crusaders' constitution," said Yassir al-Dulaimi, 40, an engineer from Ramadi. "Those who wrote it are people making a living and working for the favor of the occupier and for their own benefit, not for the favor of the country."

Clerics in mosques in Ramadi and Haditha urged people to reject the draft charter, and residents talked about leaflets circulated in the streets calling on voters to vote "No."

"The constitution is illegal," said Mohammed Hussein, 45, the owner of household appliances shop. "If the Americans want to make it legal then they should first release all the detainees held at U.S. prisons and stop killing innocents."

Despite all this the U.S. propoganda machine will most likely be in full gear over the next couple of days showing people with purple ink on their fingers and assuring everyone that the Iraqi Constitution swept to victory in fair and clean elections. And nothing to the contrary will be heard.

Meanwhile, in more significant news out of Iraq the U.S. still can’t get Iraqi oil production up and running. In fact it is actually falling and is now below pre-war levels when sanctions prevented the Iraqi’s from getting access to replacement parts and new technology:

Iraq's oil production has fallen below prewar levels to its lowest point in a decade, depriving the country's fledgling government of badly needed income and preventing the United States from achieving one of its main reconstruction goals.

Iraq's oil wells — beset by equipment problems and saboteurs — are producing about 1.9 million barrels a day in net production, lower than the 2.6 million it was producing just before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, according to the London-based Centre for Global Energy Studies (CGES).

Of the oil produced, about 500,000 barrels are consumed daily by Iraqis, while 1.4 million barrels are exported, CGES says.

Despite the challenges, Iraq has benefited from rising oil prices, which have soared to more than $60 a barrel. Iraq's oil revenue jumped from $5 billion in 2003 — when the price of oil was about half of today's — to $17 billion in 2004, according to the U.S. State Department.

Still, the production trend is troubling. The average daily production last year was 2.07 million barrels, according to CGES. This year through August, Iraq has produced an average of 1.864 million barrels, it said.

"There's a lot of pessimism about oil production in Iraq," says Michelle Billig, a political risk analyst in the oil sector for PIRA Energy Group. "They're producing less this year than last year. And the outlook for next year doesn't look so great."

Production continues to slide despite a massive U.S.-funded effort to stabilize and boost output, repair critical parts of Iraq's oil infrastructure and develop a long-term plan for the Iraqi oil industry.

The U.S. has spent $420 million fixing the oil network and allocated $1.7 billion to the sector.

Given that they have access to all the money and technology they could possibly need you have to wonder what the problem is. What exactly is Halliburton doing with all the money if they aren’t getting Iraq’s oil production up and running?

Regardless, if Iraq produces less oil then that is just that much more money Venezuela will get for its oil. As the saying goes, there isn’t a bad from which good doesn’t come.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Chavez fights poverty, and succeeds. 

One of the main talking points of the Venezuelan opposition and its international supporters recently has been that the poverty rate in Venezuela has increased under Chavez. This, they say, is the definitive prove of Chavez’s “failure”. In fact back in March one of the opposition’ main international cheerleaders, Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald, stated that Chavez opponents should use this alleged increase in poverty in their propaganda offensive against Chavez.

And there was some truth to these numbers. The poverty rate as measured by the National Statistics Institute went from 43.9% in 1998 (right before Chavez assumed power) to 55.1% in 2003, the last year for which statistics had been available up until now. “You see”, the opposition would gloat, “there was a more than 10% increase in the poverty rate under Chavez.”

However, without often they left out a very salient fact – that beginning in 2002 the Venezuelan economy was thrown into a deep depression by an opposition led coup and a large oil strike and employer lockout. As has been pointed out before poverty as actually going down during the first part of Chavez’s term in office. It was only after the extremely destructive opposition sabotage efforts of 2002 that it began going up. So to pass off this unfortunate increase in poverty as if it were largely or entirely the fault of the Chavez administration was a rather cynical attempt to propagandize.

Of course, for the last couple of years, since the opposition “strike” failed, the economy has boomed, growing 17% in 2004 and almost 10% so far in 2005. Further, the Chavez government has implemented massive social programs which according to one study by an anti-Chavez polling firm increased the income of the poorest Venezuelans by 30% in 2004 alone. Given these factors it was a fairly reasonable guess to say the poverty rate would now be going down. In fact another aspect of the oppositions mendacity on this issue is they would seldom mention how dated their statistics were and that in the intervening time poverty had quite possibly been reduced.

However, up until today no new statistics had been given that would definitively show that poverty was now decreasing. But now there are. Yesterday the President of the National Statistics Institute, Elías Eljuri, gave the new statistics in an interview with Maracaibo’s Panorama newspaper. Here is an excerpt:

Q: How much has poverty increased under Chavez’s rule?

A: That is a propagandistic campaign against the government that has reached even international organizations. Looking at monetary poverty (it is referred to that way because it is measured only by income), when Chavez came to power it was around 50% and it descended to 39% in 2001, but as a consequence of the strike and oil sabotage it shot up to 55%.

In the year 2004 it began to decrease in the first half of the year closing at 47% while extreme poverty was 18%. Are surveys in the first semester of 2005 allows us to say that the poverty level during that period was below 40%, it is now below the levels of 2001 and we are hopeful that it will close the year at around 35%, measured simply monetarily, which means there has been an important increase in incomes.

So now that we have some more up to date numbers to work with lets see where we stand.

1997= 48.1%
1998 = 43.9 %
1999 = 42 % [Chavez takes office]
2000= 40.4 %
2001 = 39 %
2002= 48.6 [coup and strike]
2003 = 55.1
2004 = 47.0
2005 (first semester) 38.5%
2005 (second semester – anticipated) 35%

UPDATE I have now updated this list as more exact numbers are available. Orignally I put 40% for the first semester of 2005 as it was simply said it was "below" 40% without giving the exact percentage. However, on Saturday the exact percentage was given in Ultimas Noticias as being 38.5%

Also, it was re-emphasized in the Ultimas Noticias article that the poverty numbers are only based on income - they do not include any in-kind benefits from social programs. So if a person gets a stipend from Misson Robinson to study that is counted as income and helps reduce poverty whereas medical care from the Barrio Adentro program or inexpensive food from Mercal are in-kind benefits that would not be counted. So clearly the governments progress in tackling poverty is even greater than these numbers would imply.

Looking at these numbers the pattern is clear. Poverty was 43.9% for the last full year when Chavez came to power and he reduced it to 39% by 2001. It then shot up in 2002 and 2003 with the turmoil Venezuela faced. Since then it has again fallen – it went down 8% between 2003 and 2004 and at least a further 7% between 2004 and 2005. That is there has been a decline of 15% in the poverty rate in just the past 2 years. Further, the poverty rate is now LOWER than when Chavez first came to office (38.5% vs. 43.9%) and should even be substantially lower by year end.

So to sum up. Until to now when the opposition has claimed that Chavez increased poverty in Venezuela they were being disingenuous and dealing in half-truths and omissions. Now that updated numbers are out if the opposition continues to says that poverty has increased under Chavez they are simply lying. For the numbers are very clear. Poverty has gone down under Chavez.

P.D. As Panorama newspaper does not archive its news articles nor even provide direct links I have pasted the entire article/interview here for those who wish to read it in its entirety.

“La pobreza monetaria cerraráeste año por debajo de 35%”
Texto: Jainelly Fernández Urdaneta

Al medir el impacto de las misiones el indicador podría ser inferior. A partir de julio de 2006, el ente comenzará a calcular la inflación en todo el país. Culminación de la Encuesta de Presupuestos Familiares permitirá precisar las características del ingreso y los gastos de las familias.

Las estimaciones nacionales, casi definitivas de 2004, indican que el Índice de Desarrollo Humano de las Naciones Unidas alcanzó la cifra de 0,8015, lo que significa que el país estaba anteriormente en el renglón mediano-alto (0,77), y subió a un nivel más alto.

“Estos resultados demuestran la recuperación de la economía”, afirmó a PANORAMA, Elías Eljuri, presidente del Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE).

—¿Cuál es la proyección del INE en materia de desempleo en 2005?

—Toda la tendencia y disminución a lo largo del año, lo sitúa en tres puntos promedio por debajo de los indicadores mensuales registrados el año pasado. Nuestras predicciones es que al finalizar el año se ubicará entre 8% y 9%, es decir, un dígito, tal como lo hemos anunciado.

—Esa cifra ha generado mucha polémica, los analistas dicen que no refleja la realidad del país

—Los métodos que utiliza el INE son los métodos internacionales que utilizan todos los países del mundo, que es una metodología de la Organización Internacional del Trabajo (OIT), allí no hay ninguna diferencia.

Hay una sección referida al empleo formal e informal, en la cual seguimos dando cifras por una metodología que no responde totalmente a la realidad y que la nueva metodología, que la estamos trabajando a través de la encuestas de hogares que aprobó la Comunidad Andina de Naciones (Colombia empezó a aplicarla). Es una metodología que bajará la informalidad de 10 a 12 puntos porcentuales. Es falso que estemos usando una metodología diferente.

—Se dice que el INE incluye a los miembros de las diferentes misiones como personas activas.

—Mientras las personas de la misión Vuelvan Caras estudiaban y eran becarios, nosotros los consideramos población inactiva, al igual que a los miembros de las diferentes misiones que tienen becas, sólo aquellos que finalizan sus programas constituyen sus cooperativas o empiezan a trabajar forman parte de la población activa.

—¿Cómo ve el panorama laboral para 2006?

—La economía lleva siete trimestres de crecimiento consecutivo, la proyección es que se mantenga este auge. En la medida que se va recuperando más la economía y va creciendo, indudablemente, el desempleo va mejorando su calidad en cuanto a la composición entre formal y informal, además seguirá disminuyendo la tasa.

—¿Qué tanto ha crecido la pobreza durante la gestión de Chávez?

—Eso es una campaña propagandística contra el Gobierno, es una matriz de opinión que han llevado, incluso a los organismo internacionales. Vemos la pobreza monetaria (se llamará así porque es una medida sólo a través de los ingresos), cuando el presidente Chávez asumió estaba alrededor de 50% y venía descendiendo hasta 39% en el año 2001, pero como consecuencia del paro y del sabotaje petrolero se disparó a 55%.

En el año 2004 comenzó a bajar en el primer semestre dos puntos y para cerrar el segundo semestre en 47%, mientras que la pobreza extrema se ubica en 18%. La encuesta de consumo del primer semestre de 2005 nos permite adelantar que la pobreza para ese período ya estaba por debajo de 40%, ya volvió por debajo de los niveles que estaba en el 2001 y esperamos cerrar el año con una pobreza alrededor de 35%, medida simplemente por la parte monetaria, lo que además se traduce en una importante mejora del ingreso.

—¿Pero el INE sólo aborda la pobreza monetaria?

—No, la pobreza es un problema multidimensional que hay que verla desde los diferentes puntos de vista. Hay una serie de sectores que están recibiendo una gran cantidad de beneficios a través de las misiones Mercal, Barrio Adentro, Vuelvan Caras y las demás.

Todos estos elementos importantes para la reducción de la pobreza que los diferentes sectores de la economía están recibiendo en sus hogares, ostensiblemente llevan a una reducción de la pobreza que no está siendo cuantificada en la pobreza por ingresos, porque cuando se calculó no se están tomando en cuenta todas las transferencias que reciben los hogares. La pobreza no se puede medir por un sólo indicador.

—Críticas similares recibe el cálculo de la canasta alimentaria, ¿cuál es su opinión?

—Estamos estudiando la elaboración de la canasta alimentaria y próximamente anunciaremos los cambios que estén planteados. Actualmente, adelantamos la Encuesta de Presupuestos Familiares, conjuntamente con el Banco Central de Venezuela, con la Universidad de los Andes y la Corporación Venezolana de Guayana, esa encuesta nos permitirá determinar las características del consumos y de los ingresos en general de la población venezolana y un estudio más completo de la composición de la canasta alimentaria y la básica.

—¿Ese es un problema similar al que presenta el IPC del área metropolitana?

—El Índice de Precios al Consumidor (IPC), por ahora lo calcula el BCV y sólo lo hace en el área metropolitana de Caracas. Estamos montando toda la estructura que tenemos a nivel nacional, y estamos configurando todos los elementos con la información que vamos a tener de esta encuesta, para que, a partir del segundo semestre del próximo año, comencemos a calcular un IPC a nivel nacional y el BCV seguirá calculando el del área metropolitana.

El Índice de Desarrollo Humano de las Naciones Unidas toma en cuenta tres aspectos fundamentales: la salud a través de la esperanza de vida, la educación con la combinación de analfabetismo y matrícula escolar, y el ingreso.
“Es importante destacar que los resultados que se dieron este año corresponden a las cifras de 2003 (cuando Venezuela tuvo una caída de ocho puntos y vivimos una situación altamente conflictiva), porque el Pnud tiene un atraso de dos años”.
Las estimaciones nacionales, casi definitivas de 2004, este índice alcanzó la cifra de 0,8015, lo que significa que el país estaba anteriormente en el renglón mediano-alto (0,77), pasó a un nivel más alto, esto demuestra la recuperación de la economía.


Don’t let the door hit you on the way out 

Yesterday in a ceromony celebrating the indigenous peoples of Venezuela and returning to them parts of their historical lands President Chavez told some U.S. evangelicals they had to leave Venezuela:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered a U.S.-based Christian missionary group working with indigenous tribes to leave the country Wednesday, accusing the organization of "imperialist infiltration" and links to the CIA.

Chavez said missionaries of the New Tribes Mission, based in Sanford, Fla., were no longer welcome during a ceremony in a remote Indian village where he presented property titles to several indigenous groups.

"The New Tribes are leaving Venezuela. This is an irreversible decision that I have made," Chavez said. "We don't want the New Tribes here. Enough colonialism!"

He accused the missionaries of building luxurious camps next to poor Indian villages and circumventing Venezuelan customs authorities as they freely flew in and out on private planes.

The group is involved in "true imperialist infiltration, the CIA, they take away sensitive, strategic information," Chavez said, without elaborating. "And on top of that, exploiting the Indians."

"We don't want to abuse them, we're simply going to give them a period of time (to) pack up their things because they are leaving," Chavez said to applause from hundreds of Indians who sat under tents in Barranco Yopal, a remote village on Venezuela's southern plains.


During the ceremony, Chavez granted 15 property titles for more than 1.65 million acres to the Cuiba, Yuaruro, Warao and Karina tribes. The documents recognize collective ownership of ancestral lands by communities with some 3,000 people.

"Previously, the indigenous people of Venezuela were removed from our lands. This is historic. It is a joyful day," said Librado Moraleda, a 52-year-old Warao from a remote village in the Orinoco River Delta.

Moraleda received a land title and government pledges of $27,000 to build homes and plant cassava and plantains.

Chavez says he is leading a "revolution" for the poor and that defending the rights of Venezuelan's 300,000 indigenous people is a priority.

But poverty remains severe in many Indian communities, and some said they need more help beyond land titles.

"We want the government to help us with hunger, with credit," said Yuaruro Indian Pedro Mendez, 26. He said his community had asked for an electrical generator and loans to help plant more crops.

This is not something entirely unexpected. As pointed out by Luigino Bracci Roa in his blog this evangelical group has been accused, many years prior to Chavez coming to power, of illegally exploiting Venezuela’s precious minerals and force converting indigenous people to their religion. They were accused as far back as the early 1990’s of building illegal airstrips to fly gold and diamonds out of the country. Apparently, when choosing an area to carry out their religious activities they have an interesting tendency to wind up choosing areas rich in natural resources. Is it just me, but do these “evangelical Christians”, from Pat Robertson, to Jim Baker, to the New Tribe have some strange fascination with little green pieces of paper with numbers printed on them? I guess these “Christians” haven’t spent much time studying Jesus’s teachings.

Anyways, on a more positive note it is good to see Chavez righting a historical wrong by returning lands to their rightful occupants. Chavez may not have created these injustices and historical wrongs but it is up to him to right them. So far he is not disappointing.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Threats: real or imagined 

Today’s New York Times had an interesting article on Venezuela and its reaction to threats coming from the United States. Here are some excerpts:

CARACAS, Venezuela: The White House may be focused on Iraq and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but in Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez's most pressing concern seems to be the Bush administration. Or, as he frequently puts it, the administration's grand plans to kill him and invade this oil-rich country.

The threats are so great, Mr. Chávez has said, that he has been forced to cancel numerous public appearances and create a civilian militia force that will make the Yankee hordes "bite the dust." And he warns that if the Americans are so foolish as to invade, "you can forget the Venezuelan oil."

"If the government of the United States attempts to commit the foolhardy enterprise of attacking us, it would be embarked on a 100-year war," Mr. Chávez told Ted Koppel in a "Nightline" interview in September. "We are prepared. They would not manage to control Venezuela, the same way they haven't been able to control Iraq."

Wherever he can - in speeches, interviews, inaugurations of public works projects, his weekly television show - Mr. Chávez rings the alarm bell. "If something happens to me," he warned in August, "the responsible one will be President George W. Bush."


The whole war of words raises a question frequently asked in Caracas and Washington: Is Mr. Chávez paranoid or, as with Mr. Castro, is there some substance to his claim?

Or is Mr. Chávez simply out to raise his own standing as a regional leader by taking on an American president who is hugely unpopular in Latin America and widely regarded as a trigger-happy imperialist? After Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Chávez loudly accused Mr. Bush of bungling the rescue effort. On his trip to New York for a United Nations summit meeting in September, he made it a point to veer into two heavily Democratic and poor neighborhoods of the Bronx, where he offered to provide home heating oil at cut-rate prices and to underwrite an environmental study of the polluted Bronx River.

"He said, 'I don't have a problem with the American people; I have some problems with some people in the American government,' " recounted Representative Jose E. Serrano, a Bronx Democrat who had invited Mr. Chávez to the borough. "He then held up both flags."

Mr. Serrano added, "You cannot deny that there are some people in this government who would like to see Chávez gone."

Bush administration officials may not hide their distaste for Mr. Chávez - that, everyone agrees, is a big part of the problem - but American officials still cringe at the accusations, which they dismiss as ludicrous.

"The U.S. has not planned, is not planning, will not plan and cannot plan to assassinate Hugo Chávez," the American ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, said in Caracas. "It would be a violation of both U.S. law and policy."

In Venezuela, though, where state television has broadcast video images of American officials criticizing Mr. Chávez as the evil empire music from "Star Wars" plays in the background, the threat is taken seriously. After all, as Venezuelan officials frequently point out, it was not all that long ago that the Bush administration gave tacit support to a coup that briefly toppled Mr. Chávez.

Venezuela has purchased 100,000 AK-47 assault rifles from Russia and is acquiring combat planes from Brazil. Across the country, civilian militias are hard at work preparing for war, training volunteers like Josefina Rojas, 43, who showed up at a National Guard base on a recent day.

"I want to protect the president," she said. "I would defend the fatherland."


In the poor barrios where Mr. Chávez draws much of his support, residents worry about C.I.A. infiltrators and reports of American warships off the coast. People often watch the president on television, and are ready to heed his warnings.

"You have to prepare, the president says so," said José Gutiérrez, 42. "He's telling the truth. If the president says something, then it's true."

Another stalwart is Bleidis Cabarcas, 49. "Can you imagine if they kill him, all this would end," she said in her home, where a picture of Mr. Chávez hangs on a wall. "But you see what happened in Iraq and other places. Venezuela cannot let this happen here."

Now there are some interesting points to be made reagarding this article. First the U.S. dismisses claims about its intent to assassinate Chavez – or do they? Does anyone expect U.S. government officials to ever give an honest answer about this? I mean really, do you think a U.S. government official would say “yeah, were in the final stages of preparations to assassinate him, we hope to be able to do it before the end of the year”? Hardly.

Further, in my book the denial isn’t all that convincing. Just saying your not doing it because it would be against U.S. laws doesn’t mean anything – we saw clearly the other day the U.S. doesn’t even obey its own constitution. But more importantly, even if the U.S. doesn’t directly assassinate Chavez they could very easily try to organize a group of Venezuelans, or Colombians, or any other nationality to do it. You know, it would work like torture were the U.S. doesn’t always torture prisoners itself but sends them to other countries where the police of U.S. puppet regimes torture them. Just as the U.S. has “outsourced” a lot of its jobs and torture it could “outsource” its assassinations too.

So a word to the wise for Chavez – be careful. Be very, very careful. Have no doubt, those who desperately seek your ouster are frustrated and desperate. Coups, strikes, and elections have not worked for them. The next logical step for them is to try assassination. Rest assured they will take that step.

The article also seems to place the formation of a militia in the context of a possible assassination of Chavez. But this is a mistake as a militia will not do anything to protect Chavez from an assassin. What it will do is help protect Venezuela against a U.S. invasion no matter how improbable that may seem at the moment. But even more importantly it will serve to defend and protect Venezuela’s democratic institutions. Lets remember that not that long ago part of the armed forces attempted to depose Chavez and actually succeeded temporarily.

The logical conclusion to draw is that it is a mistake to completely trust the military and allow it to have a monopoly on force. There needs to be a counterweight to it, such as a popular militia, that can help ensure it will not be able to act against the government. This same lesson can be learned from the experience of others too. For example, some say that Salvador Allende made a mistake in trying to distribute weapons to civilians in Chile in 1973. They claim that by doing this he provoked the military into action. Nothing could be further from the truth. Allende’s mistake was not distributing weapons – it was waiting too long to do it. That mistake was paid for not only with his life but the lives of thousands in Chile who wanted to build a better and more just society. Chavez is wise enough not to make the same mistake.

Nevertheless, the article as a whole does give a fair appraisal of the threats Venezuela finds itself under and the appropriate actions it is taking in response. Further it is good to see the some of the old myths about Chavez being against the U.S. dispelled. Says Chavez: “I don't have a problem with the American people; I have some problems with some people in the American government”. Don’t we all.


Monday, October 10, 2005

Sometimes you just have to state the obvious 

Its sad, but sometime the propaganda and lies are so insidious they simply have to be responded to. This weekend there was a demonstration in Caracas by small farmers in support of Chavez’s land distribution which has been picking up speed recently. These redistribution efforts have a great deal of support. So rather than attack them directly the opposition tries to fear monger saying that private property (or more importantly personal property) in general is under attack. If the opposition is to be believed today it’s the large landing holdings being taken, tomorrow they’ll be coming for your TV set. Unfortunately for the opposition propagandists this garbage doesn’t go unanswered. For example, here is a pretty succinct response:

It reads;

Don’t let them fool you

The struggle is against the latifundio (big extensions of land not in use, not with production, held by a few people) that prevents the participation of the people in the productive process of the country and the creation of other sources of employment that would benefit the nation.

Not against your personal property
(your house, your car, your apartment)


To the people what belongs to the people



Sunday, October 09, 2005

"So my suggestion was..." 

You may remember Bush's good friend Pat Robertson suggested not to long ago that President Chavez should be assasinated. There was something of an uproar and Robertson backed off saying that he had been misunderstood. When video tape made it very clear exactly what he had said he finally apoligized.

Now it appears he has had yet another change of heart and wants to revert to his original "suggestion":

"This man is setting up a Marxist-type dictatorship in Venezuela. He is trying to spread Marxism throughout South America. He is negotiating with the Iranians to get nuclear material, and he also sent $1.2 million in cash to Osama bin Laden right after [the terrorist attacks of] 9-11," said Mr. Robertson.


"One day we are going to be staring at nuclear weapons, and it will not be [Hurricane] Katrina facing New Orleans, it is going to be a Venezuelan nuke [weapon]. So my suggestion was, is it not a lot cheaper, sometimes, to deal with these problems before you have to have a big war?" he added.

Wow, so either the U.S. offs Chavez now or faces Venezuelan ICBMs a few years from now. Actually, given that Robertson was doing his best as a WMB (Weapon of Mass Bullshit) I'm surprised that he didn't just throw in for good measure that Venezuelan is getting technology from Brazil to build stealth bombers. Imagine that. Venezuelan Stealth Bombers flying undetected over Washington D.C.!


Do as we say, don't do as we do. 

This post is a little off topic. Its not about Venezuela. It’s not about Iraq. And it’s certainly not about oil. But in another sense it is relevant to what often winds up being discussed on this blog and what is discussed more widely with respect to the legitimacy of governments.

There are many media, think tanks, and “human rights” organizations that are often critical of many, generally poor, nations for their supposed lack of respect for law, “weak” institutions, or supposed lack of “checks of balances”. And who is generally held up as the paradigm of how governments should function and how laws should be respected? Quite often the United States.

Well, in the United States they apparently had a little legal or constitutional problem during the 2000 presidential elections that would seem to cast doubt on the idea that in that country they follow the law or have any meaningful “checks and balances” And no, it didn’t have anything to do with Florida.

Here are excerpts from the October 7th Wall Street Journal article explaining on the problem:

President Bush cites many accomplishments of Harriet Miers to explain her nomination to the Supreme Court. One the White House doesn’t mention is her succesful arguement during the disputed 2000 election that Dick Cheney is definitely not a Texan.


The section of the Constitution at issue is the relatively obscure 12th Amendment, overshadowed by its neighbor, the 13th, which abolished slavery after the Civil War. Ratified after the disputed 1800 election, the 12th lays out a number of regulations for the Electoral College. The rule in question says a state’s delegation can’t vote for presidential and vice presidential candidates who are both from the electors’ home state.

The 12th Amendment sat silently on the books for 196 years until the Bush-Cheney ticket, after falling 543.895 votes short of the Gore-Lieberman ticket, nevertheless stood poised to claim 271 electoral votes to the Democrats’ 266.

Annoyed by that prospect, three Texas voters filed suit under what they called the Constitution’s Habitation Clause, seeking to prevent the state’s 32 electoral votes from going to the Republicans. George W. Bush, then the state’s governor, didn’t deny his Texas standing, despite being born in Connecticut. But the plaintiffs also alleged that Dick Cheney lived in Dallas as chief executive of Halliburton Co. Mr. Cheney contended he was a Wyomingite.

With Bush v. Gore heading to the U.S. Supreme Court, few took notice of Jones v. Bush when it was filed Nov. 20 in Dallas’s federal courthouse. Mr. Bush understood the stakes and dispatched his crackerjack legal counselor Ms. Miers.


According to court papers, Mr. Cheney bought a home and registered to vote in Dallas in 1995. After that date, he also held a Texas drivers license, paid Texas taxes and claimed the state’s homestead tax deduction.


Mr. Cheney also owned a Cadillac and a Lexus registered in Texas. He registered a Mercedes-Benz in Virginia where he owned a townhouse, and a Jeep in Wyoming. The Miers team noted that Cheney put his Dallas home up for sale while the plaintiffs pointed out a listing describing it as “owner-occupied”.


Judge Fitzwater, a Reagan appointee, sided with Ms. Miers’s earlier argument that the plaintiffs lacked standing. On Dec. 1, he ruled that their “general interest in seen that the government abides by the Constitution” fell short of the requirement that they have “an injury in fact to them personally.”

He went on to opine that Mr. Cheney, for constitutional purposes, was a Wyomingite. “It is undisputed that he was born, raised, educated and married in Wyoming and represented the state as a member of Congress for six terms,” Judge Fitzwater wrote perhaps unaware that Mr. Cheney lists his birthplace as Lincoln, Neb.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans where Ms. Miers again argued on behalf of Mr. Bush recalls Jerry Clements, a partner at Ms. Miers’s former law firm, Lock Liddell & Sapp, who worked with her on the case.

Rather than wait weeks, the three Republican-appointed judges returned in minutes with a decision for the Bush Cheney ticket. Ms. Clements attributes the instant ruling in part to Ms. Miers’s “great presentation.”

Now, I have to admit that I had never heard of this case prior to reading this article. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of the 12th Amendment. But I looked it up and there it was:

The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves....

So lets see what we have here; the U.S. Constitution prohibits electors from a given state from voting for both a President and Vice-President from that same state; Bush and Cheney were both from Texas – unless where you live, own your house, pay taxes, and vote don’t count for anything; a Republican Judge said the case had no merit because the paintiffs didn’t have “an injury in fact to them personally” [I guess having your preferred candidate lose to someone who wins by virtue of ignoring the Constitution doesn’t constitute an “injury”]; lastly the whole case is decided in favor of the Republican candidate by three Republican Appeals Court lawyers in a matter of minutes.

So the vote by the U.S. electoral college to give Bush and Cheney a victory with 271 electors was clearly in violation of the U.S. Constitution. And when citizens looked to the courts to uphold the Constitution they were told to get lost by judges from the very same political party that Bush and Cheney are from.

So where is the rule of law? Where are the famed “checks and balances” that some talk so loudly about? Where are the “institutions” that are supposed to prevent this from happening? They all seem to be missing in action. And where are all international busy bodies who go around making sure everything is on the up and up? I don’t recall Human Rights Watch having anything to say about this even though they have a lot to say about alledged judicial shortcomings in other countries. And why isn’t there a clamor for the “Inter-American Democratic Charter" to be invoked? I guess it must be that all these formalities only apply to “the little countries.” When you’re the worlds sole superpower you get to make up your own rules.

So next time you hear the U.S. pontificating about what a great democracy they are and how everyone else is to be judged against them you might want to remember this case. “Do as we say, don’t do as we do” should be their national motto.


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