Saturday, July 01, 2006

What the opposition has to offer 

The New York Times today had a long article profiling Teodoro Petkoff. There wasn't much new ground broken in the article. But it does have bad news for the opposition. First, it goes through some of the polling numbers which show how miniscule the oppositions chances are of winning an election. It points out that Chavez has a 57% approval rating according to Keller & Associates (the firm that consistently gives the numbers LEAST favorable to Chavez). It then points out that according to another poll 66% of Venezuelans would vote for Chavez whereas a sole contender from the oppostion would get 34%. All this leads the reporter to state: "With Mr. Chavez far ahead in the polls, Mr. Petkoff's campaign as an independent appears quixotic". This is certainly not good news for the opposition's main electoral strategy - boycotting the vote to delegitimize it. This reporter clearly sees that for what it is, the opposition trying to hide its unpopularity.

Worse still, its not written by their favorite New York Times whipping boy, Juan Forero, so it shows the opposition's problems have nothing to do with the writings of one reporter. Rather it is their own stupidity, unpopularity, and mendacity that does them in.

All that though wasn't the most interesting part of the article. What caught my attention was the article bringing up Petkoff's faux populist strategy of promising to hand out oil money directly to all Venezuelans through "oil coupons". Of course, Petkoff has spent the past seven years doing nothing but criticizing Chavez for his espansive social programs so this sure seems like a rather dramatic turnabout in his position. But when you are desperate to win an election and get your hands back on the levers of power anything goes I guess.

Problem is it is all B.S. Witness this paragraph from the article:

"Petkoff understands that associating these coupons with the oil boom is something that can reverberate among the poorest elements," said Luis Pedro Espana, an economist who studies poverty issues at Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas. "It's an electoral ploy, but if managed well, it could go beyond a direct subsidy to a more meaningful assistance policy."

So this is what the opposition is offering, electoral ploys. That should come as no surprise. Traditional Venezuelan politicians have a long history of campaigning on the left and then governing on the right. Chavez alone has stayed true to his electoral promises, reducing poverty, improving the economy, and raising peoples standard of living. That makes it unlikely the Venezuelan electorate will fall for cheap electoral ploys like Petkoff's


Revealing what has been swept under the rug for decades 

Chavez has often been falsely accused of creating class conflict in Venezuela. As if it were him that drove the vast majority of Venezuelans in poverty. As if it were him that had allowed a tiny elite to plunder Venezuela's oil wealth and squirrel it away in foriegn banks. As if it were him that ordered the army into the streets in 1989 to gun down thousands of people.

Of course, I'm sure it really does appear to upper class Venezuelan's that Chavez created class conflict when for decades the country was theirs to do with as they pleased and all of the sudden that has been taken away by people who were supposed to know their place and accept their lot. In reality though nothing is happening is happening to them that they weren't doing to others all along. So their thinking all the sudden their is class conflict is really just them seeing things in a different way now that they are on the receiving end.

Similarly, the media has been full of absurd accusations that Manuel Lopez Obrador has stirred up class conflict in Mexico. Of course, he is doing know such thing. What he is really doing is giving hope to those who for the better part of a century have had none. Hopefully, enough of the downtrodden will vote tomorrow in Mexico so that instead of just having table scraps tossed to them they can take their place at the table as equals.

Tomorrow is huge day for Mexico, for Latin America, and indeed for all of the Americas, north and south. Lets hope the good guys win. As this blog doesn't normally cover Mexico and hasn't said much about it to this point here is an article that rightly points out the divisions that run through Mexican society and which AMLO is trying to overcome:

Mexicans buffeted by a mudslinging, polarized presidential campaign are choosing Sunday between plunging into Latin America's left-wing tide or electing a conservative who favors free trade and globalization.

With leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and conservative Felipe Calderon running neck-and-neck, the election — which will also pick both houses of congress and five governors — hinges on class divisions that have seldom been talked about so openly in Mexican politics.

For 71 years, until President Vicente Fox's victory in 2000, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, ruled Mexico by claiming to represent all economic classes. Fox's victory ushered in full democracy and bettered life for the middle class but failed to create millions of jobs, tame Mexico's drug barons or settle its migrant-labor problems with the U.S.

Today, half of Mexico's 103 million people live on $4.50 a day and the poorest 20 million earn half that — a social and cultural gulf that has been the cornerstone of Lopez Obrador's campaign to succeed Fox, who is constitutionally barred from seeking-re-election.

The divide was on vivid display recently as his supporters cut through a swanky Mexico City shopping mall on their way to a campaign rally. Farming families who had never encountered escalators were hesitant to get on them, drawing disdainful looks from well-dressed onlookers.

This election boils down to a race between those strangers in the shopping mall and Mexicans who fear losing the low-interest loans and economic stability that emerged under Fox's disciplined budgets and high international reserves.

Santino Sanchez Juarez, 87, is one of the former. He barely survived doing odd jobs until Lopez Obrador, as Mexico City mayor, gave the elderly $65 monthly pensions.

"He is the only one with a heart, who cares for the people," said Sanchez Juarez.

He expressed a certain nostalgia for Adolfo Lopez Mateos who, as president from 1958 to 1964, used charisma, nationalism and populist handouts to the poor, but also crushed dissent and antagonized the United States.

Lopez Obrador shares that nostalgia, and his conservative opponent's campaign has been largely based on stoking fears that the left-winger is a clone of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's Cuba-friendly president, and will foment class divisions while returning Mexico to the last debt-ridden years of PRI rule.

The PRI now looks like a spent force, with its candidate, Roberto Madrazo, trailing third in the polls, and Calderon's line of attack seems to have won some supporters.

Listening to Lopez Obrador, "It's almost as though, if you're not poor, he doesn't want to know about you," said Marisol Castro, 55, a middle-class nutritionist from the western city of Zamora.

Victory for Lopez Obrador would be a crowning moment for Latin America's left-wing renaissance, which has captured or held onto the presidency in Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.

Lopez Obrador has sought to distance himself from the leftist surge, painting himself as a moderate with such benign slogans as "Happiness is on the way." But he also rails against "those on top," pledges to make the rich pay more taxes and wants to restore a sense of national pride, in part by standing up to the United States on issue such as farm trade.

His supporters sometimes heckle opponents' campaign events, cry conspiracy if polls show him faltering and pass out leaflets saying "only Lopez Obrador can win" — fraught language in a country that fears violence if he is defeated.

The last polls all showed a statistically insignificant gap between the front-runners. First results will come in by about 9 p.m. EDT Sunday.

For all the divisions exposed in the campaign, there is much that all three candidates agree on. They advocate close U.S. ties and U.S. immigration reform that would allow more Mexicans to work legally north of the border. They all promise to crack down on crime, and Lopez Obrador has called for the army to play a greater role in fighting drug trafficking — a departure from the left's anti-military tradition.

"There are areas of the country that the government doesn't even control. The drug cartels control them, so we should give thanks if the Mexican government can recover its sovereignty," said Porfirio Munoz Ledo, a Lopez Obrador adviser. "If we can't do that, we won't have good relations with anybody abroad."

Some ghosts of the PRI years have been laid to rest. A stable economy has ended a history of boom-and-bust cycles, and a strong, respected election authority has made vote fraud and dirty tricks much harder to pull off.

But even if a candidate wins handsomely, he is unlikely to command a majority in the new Congress, and may face the same frustrations as Fox did in trying to get his more ambitious programs approved.

Calderon has offered almost as many giveaways as his allegedly free-spending opponent, but has also endorsed some of Fox's most exclusionary policies, such as a law that all but guarantees the stranglehold of a few large companies over the media sector.

Lopez Obrador's campaign has already absorbed some of the old-guard elements of the PRI by building a base of Mexico City government employees as well as beneficiaries of government programs, the kind of patronage machine that kept the PRI in power for decades.

"This is a choice between two clearly distinct proposals that differ over the central theme, which is inequality," said writer Carlos Monsivais. "That's the structural problem of this country."


Friday, June 30, 2006

Talk about messed up priorities 

Last year I talked about an effort by some Chavista deputies in the National Assembly to at least partially legalize abortion. Currently it is illegal in Venezuela. As far as I know the legalization efforts went nowhere as even many Chavistas are opposed to loosening restrictions on abortions.

Worse, we are seeing now that the anti-abortion laws aren't just some arcane holdover on the penal code but actually get enforced. In the state of Zulia a health care provider may soon be facing murder charges for alledgedly helping a young girl get pills meant to induce an abortion. The girl is currently in critical condition in the hospital. The Venezuelan equivelant of the FBI has already visited the health care center and gathered forensic evidence for the proseduction. And the authorities have said that the doctor involved will definitely be charged the crime of performing an abortion. But should the girl die the charges will be raised to murder.

Now I don't mean to be disrespectful of anyone elses values or religious believes. The subject of abortion is a contraversial one. But in a country where over 9,000 people who have already been born are murdered each year it seems like misplaced priorities to be spending your time investigating health care providers for performing abortions.


Go figure 

The Venezuelan electoral authorities, the CNE, are busy laying down the ground rules for the December 3rd elections. One of the most anticipated decisions is what percentage of the paper voting receipts issued by the voting machines will be counted and compared to the computure tally. In the legislative elections of last year it was 47% of the machines that this was done for.

Now according to Ultimas Noticias the CNE has internally, not officially yet, decided to up that to 53%.

To me this is somewhat bizarre. First off, where in the world is the 53% number comging from? It seems very arbitrary. But more importantly, if you are already doing to count more than half of all the paper ballots why not just go the rest of the way and count them all? How much more work can it be? It seems silly to count 53% knowing that the opposition will still insist there must have been fraud amongst the 47% of the ballots not hand counted. Why not count them all and shut the opposition idiots up?

Sometimes the logic of a situation just escapes me.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Killer fact 

There is another blog I read that from time to time that posts "killer facts". Here is a killer fact - literally.

In Venezuela there are an estimated 6 million guns in circulation. As has been mentioned numerous times crime there is completely out of control. That is a multi-faceted problem, to be sure, but a good place to start in terms of bringing the murder rate down might be to get some of these guns off the street.

Incidently, the same Ultimas Noticia article gave that number also gave the official homocide statistics for the past few years. Here they are:

2003 11,642

2004 9,719

2005 9,412

So there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the murders seem to be trending down, albiet slowly. The bad news is at 9,412 that is still a sky high murder rate.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Their true colors come shining through 

Today, in a not very surprising move, the opposition electoral NGO, Sumate, announced that there almost certainly won’t be any primaries to choose an opponent to Chavez for the upcoming presidential elections. The reason given was that the parties involved couldn’t come to an agreement to hold primaries and there is no longer enough time to properly organize them.

To see the significance of this we first have to back up a little bit. There were three reasons that the opposition needed to hold primaries. First, there are three main opposition candidates, Teodoro Petkoff who is a newspaper publisher, Manuel Rosales who is the governor of Venezuela’s largest state, and Julio Borges who is the head of the Primero Justicia (Justice First) political party. To stand any chance against Chavez they can’t all run, they have to choose a unity candidate. The second reason why the opposition would want to hold primaries is to mobilize its base, debate a political platform, and show the country that it is a democratic force. The third reason for the opposition to choose a candidate via primaries is that it is required by the Venezuelan Constitution. According to the consitution all candidates for office are to be chosen through internal party elections.

In one fell swoop the opposition has now blown all of that out of the water. They are still stuck with three candidates and no way of deciding amongst them. The political grapevine has it that Petkoff and Rosales were opposed to primaries all along as they were afraid they would lose to Borges. This is not surprising as both of them are holdovers of the corrupt and anti-democratic pre-Chavez Fourth Republic and therefore have no use for things like internal party democracy.

It will also be interesting to see what the hyper-pedantic opposition sophists have to say about the primaries not being held. If the law is strictly adhered to none of these individuals should be permitted to participate in the elections as they don’t meet the requirement of having held primaries (the same goes for Chavez so if the CNE follows the law to the “T” they should cancel the elections for lack of qualified candidates). Fortunately for them in Venezuela laws tend not to be that strictly adhered to.

But the most important point in all of this it what is shows us about the nature of the Venezuelan opposition. For years now I have listened to opposition apologists explain how they had nothing to do with the corruption and repression of the previous governments. The opposition, they said, is composed of new, forward thinking people who had a vision for a new and better Venezuela. And part of this was presumably that the country would be more democratic if they came to power.

This certainly serves to show what non-sense all of that was. These people clearly don’t have a democratic bone in their body. In the seven long years they have been ranting and raving about how authoritarian Chavez supposedly is they’ve been able to organize how many internal elections? Zero. That’s right, not a single solitary one (damn, at least the Chavistas have had some primaries, if not enough). These clowns who ceaselessly claim they are the last hope to save Venezuelan democracy can’t even organize an election amongst themselves!!!

So here we have it clearly demonstrated – these people represent nothing new for Venezuelans. They are the exact same corrupt and anti-democratic slime that ruled over Venezuela for the forty years of “democracy” before Chavez came to power. They neither believe in nor respect average people – and they sure don’t think regular people should have anything to do with choosing the country’s leaders. Rather the opposition is of the elite, by the media barons, and for the rich. “The people” simply have no place in the Venezuelan opposition and are at best to be seen, but never heard.


Monday, June 26, 2006

What pissing away real money looks like 

The opposition likes to complain that Chavez is wasting too much money. He is wasting money on social programs - ie just giving "hand outs". He is wasting money buying arms - who could be so silly as to think an oil rich country would ever be a target for an invasion? He wastes money on other Latin American countries - how dare he increase taxes on struggling companies like Exxon-Mobil and give it to rich Bolivian peasants.

Anways, when pressed for details on these supposed give-a-ways the Venezuelan opposition never seems to be able to come up with much. Unfortunately I can't help them as I can't think of many large amounts of money that Venezuela is "giving away". However, if they want to take a look at money that really is getting pissed away they can check out what the U.S. is spending just on bombs, bullets, and tanks for its endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan:

The annual cost of replacing, repairing and upgrading Army equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to more than triple next year to more than $17 billion, according to Army documents obtained by the Associated Press.

From 2002 to 2006, the Army spent an average of $4 billion a year in annual equipment costs. But as the war takes a harder toll on the military, that number is projected to balloon to more than $12 billion for the federal budget year that starts next Oct. 1, the documents show.

The $17 billion also includes an additional $5 billion in equipment expenses that the Army requested in previous years but has not yet been provided.

The latest costs include the transfer of more than 1,200 2 1/2-ton trucks, nearly 1,100 Humvees and $8.8 million in other equipment from the U.S. Army to the Iraqi security forces.

Army and Marine Corps leaders are expected to testify before Congress Tuesday and outline the growing costs of the war — with estimates that it will cost between $12 billion and $13 billion a year for equipment repairs, upgrades and replacements from now on.

The Marine Corps has said in recent testimony before Congress that it would need nearly $12 billion to replace and repair all the equipment worn out or lost to combat in the past four years. So far, the Marines have received $1.6 billion toward those costs to replace and repair the equipment.

According to the Army, the $17 billion includes:

_$2.1 billion in equipment that must be replaced because of battle losses.

_About $6.5 billion for repairs.

_About $8.4 billion to rebuild or upgrade equipment.

One of the growing costs is the replacement of Humvees, which are wearing out more quickly because of the added armor they are carrying to protect soldiers from roadside bombs. The added weight is causing them to wear out faster, decreasing the life of the vehicles.

Congress has provided about $21 billion for equipment costs in emergency supplemental budget bills from 2002-06. All the war equipment expenses have been funded through those emergency bills, and not in the regular fiscal-year budgets.

Pentagon officials have estimated that such emergency bills would have to continue two years beyond the time the U.S. pulls out of Iraq in order to fully replace, repair and rebuild all of the needed equipment.

The push for additional equipment funding comes after the House last week passed a $427 billion defense spending bill for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, which includes $50 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. A separate $66 billion emergency funding bill for the two wars was approved earlier in the month.

War-related costs since 2001 are approaching half a trillion dollars.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Why they'll make their excuses and leave 

Although things have been a little bit quiet due to the World Cup soccer matches the December 3rd Presidential elections in Venezuela are drawing ever nearer. Unfortunately for those opposed to Chavez, new polling information gives them no cause for optomism. Polling results published in El Nacional from the right wing anti-Chavez pollsters, Datanalysis, shows that Chavez should easily coast to victory - as of May 59% of the people polled intended to vote for Chavez.

Of course, there is nothing new in this. Virtually all polls over the past couple of years have shown Chavez with very high approval ratings (generally over 70%) and with a large lead in the "voting intentions" category. So I try not to bore people just repeating all the polls. But the poll by Datanalisis was unique in that it broke down Chavez's support by social strata. Readers will recall that in Venezuela social strata are categorized by letters with A and B being the upper and upper middle classes, C being the lower middle class, D being the working class, and E being working class and poor. The vast majority of the Venezuelans are in classes D and E and, unsurprisingly, this is where most of Chavez's support is as the following chart based on the polling information shows:

Social ClassDescriptionPercent of PopulationConfident in ChavezNot Confident In ChavezDid not respond
ABUpper Classes


CLower middle Class15%43.8%49.5%6.7%
DWorking Class23%61.5%30.6%7.9%
EWorking Class/Poor58%73.0%22.2%4.8%
Total 100%   

Social ClassDescriptionPercent of PopulationPro-ChavezNeither pro nor anti ChavezAnti-ChavezDid not answer
ABUpper Classes


CLower middle Class15%30.8%19.7%41.3%8.1%
DWorking Class23%46.8%10.3%34.2%8.7%
EWorking Class/Poor58%55.8%8.4%29.2%6.9%

I have highlighted the two most important results. Amongst the well to do, social classes A and B, opposition to Chavez is quite strong with 66.7% saying they have no confidence in him. Amongst the lower middle class the opposition also has a majority albeit a small one with 49.5%. Also, note that it is amongst classes A and B that there is the highest rate of "did not answer". Maybe that is the oppositions constant propoganda regarding repression and blacklisting having the effect of scaring their own supporters.

But amongst the working classes and poor confidence in Chavez is overwhelming with 61.5% of social class D having confidence in him and 73% of the poorest Venezuelan's having confidence. Time and time again I have heard the opposition media and propagandists say that the notion that the opposition consists largely of upper class people while Chavez draws his support from the poor and working class is not true. That is a gross oversimplification they say. Yet this chart shows that the the notion that the poor support Chavez while the rich oppose him is completely correct. And of course, there are a lot more poor and working class people than there are upper class people which explains why Chavez will win any election easily.

The opposition, which refuses to accept Chavez's democratic credentials and legitimacy, blanch at the thought of him winning re-election by a large margin. So they will keep twisting and turning and looking for any reason to reject elections. Knowing they will lose, they prefer simply to make their excuses and leave. Unfortunately for them almost all the international press in Venezuela sees this for what it is - Chavez is wildly popular and the opposition boycotting elections is just its lame way to try to save face. They really don't fool anyone at this point.


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