Saturday, December 03, 2005

The opposition in action! 

In a prelude to the elections to be held tomorrow it seems the opposition has a final statement to make outside of withdrawing from elections. Now they want blood! If this does not send a message to the international observers, or even the international viewer, I dont know what will. Perhaps certain defeat is more than some opposition can bare to muster. Democracy is being attacked!

Three Injured by Blasts in Venezuela: Three Injured by Blasts in Venezuela As Opposition Boycotts Elections, Prosecutors Say

By IAN JAMES Associated Press Writer

CARACAS, Venezuela Dec 3, 2005 — Three explosions went off at a military base and near a government office as Venezuela prepared for a congressional vote Sunday amid a boycott called by opposition parties, the attorney general's office said.

One homemade explosive went off near a government legal office Friday afternoon, injuring two people, said Aryeli Vera, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office. Two other explosives thought to be grenades went off in Fort Tiuna military base in Caracas, seriously injuring a police officer, she said.

"I don't want to blame all the opposition, but there are absolutely irrational sectors in the opposition camp who believe they can disturb the process with those acts," Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel told reporters Saturday, citing reports of the explosions.

President Hugo Chavez has accused major opposition parties of staging a U.S.-backed conspiracy by pulling out of elections days before the vote.

The U.S. government has denied involvement, while major opposition parties say they will not participate because they do not believe conditions are in place for a fair vote.

The Organization of American States, which has 50 observers monitoring the vote, said before the boycott that "important advances" had been made to generate confidence in the election. The European Union has an additional 160 observers on hand.

The government said soldiers and police were on alert after discovering C-4 explosives and other materials intended to disturb the vote through violence.

Eleven people accused of stockpiling molotov cocktails to "disrupt public order" were arrested Friday in the western state of Zulia, prosecutors said in a statement. Officials said they stopped the group while they were trying to block a road and also seized fuel, tacks, tires and identification cards falsely making them appear to be Venezuelan soldiers.

Rangel said the opposition boycott announced days before the vote was part of a Bush administration plot to tarnish perceptions of Venezuela's democracy. Chavez has said the U.S. is bent on ousting him.


Friday, December 02, 2005

Public housing Venezuelan style 

The people who I have been staying with outside of Barquisimeto Venezuela live in newly built government housing. This has given me a great oppertunity to see from the inside what type of housing the government is building for low income Venezuelans.

First, let me say this will NOT be about housing policy in Venezuela in general. That is a bigger subject. Further, it is widely acknowledged that the construction of housing for low income people has been a signicant shortcoming of this government. They just have not gotten enough built. All that is a topic for another day. Rather this is just an up close look at what the housing that is being built is like.

The people that I am with who are getting this free government housing are being re-located from a slum are near downtown Barquisimeto along the Rio Turbio. They are being re-located so that area can be bulldozed and turned into a park. Other residents of this housing project were displaced flood victims from the state of Vargas.

The project itself consists of 400 units each in 4 different gated mini comminitues for a total of 1,600 units. About half have been built already with many others in construction. The communities are completely walled off and entrance is only through a gate with 24 hour security. From what I saw and heard the community is completely save and there is almost no crime. People leave there doors not only unlocked but actually open most of the time and casually walk in and out of each others housed to socialize (there sure is something to be said for the Latin culture).

Here is a picture of some of the units under construction:

Note the backbreaking manual work. This is still a very underdeveloped country. Also, note the houses are made from concrete and cinderblock.

Here is what a fully completed house looks like:

The houses are quite spacious in side. While not large there are three bedrooms, two bathrooms (both with showers), a combined living room/dining room and a kitchen.

This is a frontal view of two houses side by side. All units are identical in layout and come in this rather ugly white color that gets quickly dirty as the area is very dirty and dusty. However the houses don´t stay like this for long as we will see next:

Note this house is exactly the same base house as the others but the people living there have built additions to it such as this front gate. Plus they have painted it on their own. Virtually every occupied house had construction under way as people were building on extra rooms little by little as they could afford to buy the materials. So a lot of these houses will be quite good size when all is said and done.

This is looking down a back ally between rows of houses. Note all the blue water tanks. There is no piped in water system. All water comes from tanker trucks that bring it every week and fill up those tanks. The cost is about $4 per tank. This also explains why most open space is just dirt rather than grass. The area is very dry and people couldn´t afford to use water just to water lawns.

This is the inside of one of the houses. Notice the beautiful wood ceiling. How I wish I had that in my apartment. It is a very nice touch and points out something very important - this is NOT slum housing. The quality of it is amazingly high especially given that it is completely free of cost to the people who live there.

Ok, I hate to show personal things like peoples bathrooms but I just wanted to show the quality of this housing. All the tiling and fixtures you see cam with the house. Plus people were given basic furniture like a living room sofa and dining room table. One thing they don´t have - a hot water system. So its a cold shower every day.

Lastly, this is a new day care just being finished inside the complex. So educational infrastructure is being built along with the housing.

Overall, I was truly amazed at the high quality of this housing. I myself would be very comfortable living in it. The people there mentioned that the public housing built before was of very poor quality and that this was much better than anything any other government had done. Further, people mentioned that the pace of new construction had picked up markedly in recent months. So hopefully there will be lots more of this coming down the pike.

And as a final note, you absolutly do NOT have to be a Chavista to get this housing. The completely apolitical person I have been talking about before is the one who lives here and he is certainly no Chavista. Further, I have spoken to residents there who are opposed to Chavez. There was clearly no political pre-requisite to getting this housing.


To get rid of the opposition just turn off the TV 

I have to admit that traveling around here I am a little disconnected from the world. I have watched essentially no TV in the entire time I´ve been here. Nor have I listened to any radio or for that matter even read the newspapers faithfully. And guess what happens when you do what I´ve been doing for the last week? In short, the opposition almost completely disappears. I used to think that when Chavistas said that the opposition was pretty much just a media creation I thought they were exagerating. And in the past maybe they were. But no longer. Going around the streets of cities like Barquisimeto and San Felipe or small towns like Duaca and Rio Claro I just can´t find them. Some Accion Democratica posters in down town Barquisimeto, one person handing out a ´Causa R´ leaflet (another pary that is generally considered far to the left), and some fading left over ¨SI´posters from last years RR are all I have found.

I was reading an opposition web site where they mentioned that it was the AD and PJ ´militants´that forced the leadership to withdraw. They have militants !?!?!? My only reaction is where? Cause they sure havn´t been putting up posters or handing out leaflets or any other of the things party militants normally do. Like I said before I still haven´t met a solitary person from Primero Justicia nor met anyone who themselves has met anyone from that party. And they were going door to door in the barrios? Bullshit.

Now, does this mean there aren´t people who oppose Chavez? Of course not. I have met quite a few who speak against him, quiet strongly in fact. But interestingly, while they complain about Chavez I´ve never heard them talk about the opposition as an entitty itself or brag about how good they think P.J. or A.D. is. In other words, I´m not getting the sense the current opposition even has much of any standing amongst those who oppose Chavez.

A couple other observations before I wrap this post up. First, all political activity is overwhelmingly pro-Chavez. You see cars with Chavez stickers on them and people with pro-Chavez t-shirts on. Not many mind you, maybe one out of one hundred. But I have yet to see a single solitary person with any opposition minded t-shirts or buttons much less any cars with them. In the propoganda wars on the street it is literally 100 to 1 Chavez, and that is no exaggeration.

Secondly, in traveling to some small towns such as Rio Claro here in Lara I have noted much more pro-Chavez propoganda in the rural areas and small towns than in the cities. In the cities there is a fair amount of it but it is sporadic. In the rural areas it seems every other house or building is plastered over with pro-Chavez posters. And the run down jeeps they have called ´rusticas´generally are addorned with pro-Chavez stickers. Mind you these are very poor people living in very poor areas. Rural poverty always seems more extreme than urban poverty. But the much stronger pro-Chavez bias in rural areas was very pronounced, at least to the casual observer. Interestingly, this completely squares with last years RR votes in with the manual voting wich was done in rural areas gave Chavez much more support than in urban areas.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Election update 2 

The big news now is that Primero Justicia, the yuppie party, has also withdrawn from the electtions. Now, there has been lots of speculation about this being a U.S. orchestrated event or whatever.

But before I get to that let me say something even more basic. The opposition is just NOWHERE to be found outside of the mass media. I´ve been looking hard for them and it is like trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. They had absolutely no grass roots campeign even before any decision to pull out. For example, supposedly P.J. was going to have a big grass roots campeign to whip up support. Not only have I not seen it, I haven´t yet spoken to a single person who has seen it. Not one. When I ask about them here in Barquisimeto or in San Felipe where I was yesterday I just get blank stares or that they exist in Caracas but ¨not here¨. But I didn´t even see them in eastern Caracas!

Regardless of who organized the boycott I think the reasons behind it are very clear. The opposition was about to be whipped BADLY at the polls and so to save what little bit of face they have left they decided not to play ball. Thats their choice. But then I don´t want any bitching when pro-Chavez candidates have a 90% majority. And they can´t even complain about the morochas any more because by them not participating, morochas or no morochas, the Chavistas are going to get more than 2/3 of the seats.

BTW, one more thing to show how stupid and cynical their strategy is. The New Times pary which is based in Zulia where an opposition governor is actually pretty popular is still participating. In other words, the one party of the opposition that has any electoral prospects at all is still showing up. Those who aren´t facing an embarrasing defeat participate. Those who knew they were going to get wiped out any ways have decided to withdraw. No disrespect intended to Ralph Nader, but the effect of all this is basically about the same as if he had decided to withdraw from the U.S. presidential campeign.

Although I haven´t been able to follow the media that much one good thing is that the international media seems to be seeing this whole charade by the opposition for what it is, people crying about unfairness when the reality is they just have no support.

Some random observations on the political situation here. For a while a lot of the polls in Venezuela have said Chavez has an approval rating of about 70%. They have also said that his political movement has the support of about 40 to 50% with the opposition being less than 10% and the people who like neither being around 40%. I have to say the anecdotal evidence I am getting here seems to very much confirm that. There are a lot of Chavistas to be see openly going around with campeign stickers on their cars or Chavez t-shirts. I haven´t seen anything by the opposition and am meeting few people who oppose Chavez. Yet I am meeting quite a large number of people who want nothing to do with either Chavez or the opposition. The larger part of this group are simply completely apolitical - they think the whole thing is a waste of time and just have no interest in it. Their concern is their daily life and they don´t see how politics affect that. A smaller subset of that group is interested in politics but doesn´t like either side. In total this group does seem to rival the pro-Chavez forces in size. But it doesn´t seem to respresent a political threat to him as most of them are people who are just more interested in their own personal lives than the abstraction of politics.

NOTE 1: Where I am now has no USB connection so pictures (and thus my post on housing) will probably have to wait until I am back in Caracas this weekend.

NOTE 2: Just casually observing one can see the economy is better than just a year ago. But how much would be hard to say. It is, after all, still a very poor country. But there is one change that is very obvious and dramatic. And that is traffic. I´ve given statistics before on how car sales have gone through the roof. Well, I guess all those cars have to go somewhere and they sure are clogging up all the roads. Everywhere you go traffic is very heavy (much heavier than just a year or two ago) with rush hour traffic being almost unbearable in both Caracas and Barquisimeto. And the highways between cities also seem to have very heavy traffic with long lines at the toll booths. One good thing is that there is a lot of mass transit being worked on right now that will hopefully help to alleviate this soon. In Barquisimeto they are building a rapid transit system and in Caracas they should be completing a big subway expansion next year. Plus they are also working on a inter-city passenger rail system. All that public trasport is very much needed if they don´t want to have all their gasoline just burned up in endless traffic jams:

UPDATE: The Lubrio blog has a good post, in Spanish, on all this. He lieves in Caracas but recently traveled to Maracaibo. And he can´t even find any campeigning being done by the opposition either!!! But he did find some posters by Primero Justicia and posted a picture. And I found a poster by A.D. in Barquisimeto. So together we´ve found a whopping two opposition campeign posters! He also thinks this withdrawal is a prelude to some bigger campeign to try to destabilize the government, in particular maybe another coup attempt. I don´t know about that but I do think this probably is a prelude to a more aggresive stance by the U.S. against Venezuela as they may try to paint the country as not being as being something less than a full democracy.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Pre-election update 

I have now moved on to Barquisimeto and can give an update on the electoral activities I have seen. But before I do let me get to the big news. Last night in a major concession to opposition concerns the Venezuelan electoral authorities agreed to not use the fingerprint reading machines. This, along with the previous agreement to get rid of the electronic voting lists at the polls should have assuaged the doubs of anyone regarding the voting process indeed being secret.

But today the several opposition parties announced that they were pulling out of the elections, namely A.D., COPEI, and Proyecto Venezuela. The governments response was basically one of good riddance. Not only is the opposition overall discreditted but these three parties in particular do not exactly have a good image here in Venezuela. The first two are part of the corrupt duopoly that ran Venezuela for fourty years and left the country in tatters. They are widely despised. The last one is a small party with a very narrow following amongst the upper classes.

Of course the bigger issue is the opposition can see that they are about to suffer a bad defeat. All the polls clearly point to a large Chavez victor. So it looks like as a face saving move they are picking up their marbles and going home. Even the international media seems to have taken note of that as evidenced by this article.

This all serves to lead into what I have been witnessing. In Caracas the opposition was just no where to be found at all. Even in Altamira I saw no evidence of them at all except a few tiny stickers advocating civil dissobediance and not voting. And 3 blocks down from the famous Plaza Francia there was a large campeign booth - for the MVR!! I was amazed that they were there and stopped to chat. I asked them if it wasn´t dangerous to campeign in what is a opposition stronghold. Their response is that a year ago it was but not now. The opposition is now too demoralized and small to even mess with them in their own turf.

In a four hour ride to Barquisimeto there wasn´t a single opposition poster or piece of graffiti to be seen. Everything was from the MVR, PPT, or Podemos - all pro-Chavez parties. And in Barquisimeto itself there the opposition is nowhere to be found. In fact the closest thing I´ve seen to the opposition here was the Tupamaros! (for those who don´t know they are a more radical faction of those who support Chavez).

So outside of the mass media the opposition seems to have done little if any campiegning. This certainly leads me to wonder if they never really intended to participate in the elections and just enrolled knowing they would later pull out as a stunt to try to embarrass the government. It certainly seems plausible. In any event it certainly doesn´t seem as that is going to get them anywhere, except maybe to a well deserved retirement in Miami.

Here is a poor quality night shot of the Chavista table three blocks from Plaza Francia. Ouch, that has to hurt! And there was no-one around doing anything similar for any opposition party. If there were I would have stopped to talk to them and take pictures but I have yet to see them anywhere. BTW, the women in the picture is a very interesting person. I spent 2 hours speaking to her. She was on was outside Miraflores on April 11 during the coup and she slept in the PDVSA headquarters for weeks during the oil strike to help defend it from sabotage. I think I will be posting about her in the future and doubt I have seen her for the last time.

Here is a leaflet that was being distributed at that table for a pro-Chavez candidate in the eastern section of Caracas. Note how the first thing on each of the three pages shown in ¨la candidata de Chavez¨or ¨the candidate of Chavez¨. This is a clear example of how strong Chavez´s own popularity is and all that can are trying to ride his coattails to victory.

This is pretty much the only type of posters you see around Barquisimeto - ones for the pro-Chavez MVR. I have seen absolutely no political activity by the opposition in Barquisimeto at all:

These are some Tupamaros outside of Barquisimeto. They were the only party that I saw that was at all competing with Chavez´s parties. Of course, they are to the left of Chavez and are critical of the government for not being radical enough.

Here is a leaflet they were giving out asking for a deepening of the revolution and an end to corruption.


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