Friday, April 13, 2007

47 hours that changed Venezuela 

The events of five years ago where very important and are worthy of detailed analysis. Greg Wilpert of Venezuelanalysis has put to together a very well researched account of what happened that day as well as a very interesting eyewitness account of what he did and saw that day. Its a long article but well worth it so without further introduction:

The April 2002 coup attempt against President Chavez represented the perhaps most important turning point of the Chavez Presidency. First, it showed just how far the opposition was willing to go to get rid of the country’s democratically elected president. Up until that point the opposition could claim that it was merely fighting Chavez with the political tools provided by liberal democracy. Afterwards, the mask was gone and Chavez and his supporters felt that their revolution was facing greater threats than they had previously imagined. A corollary of this first consequence was thus that the coup woke up Chavez’s supporters to the need to actively defend their government.

Second, the coup showed just popular Chavez really was and how determined his supporters were to prevent his overthrow. They went onto the streets, at great personal risk (over 60 people were killed and hundreds were wounded by the police in the demonstrations that inspired the military to bring Chavez back to power), to demand their president’s return to office.

Third, the coup woke up progressives around the world to what was happening in Venezuela. It forced them to examine why a supposedly unpopular and authoritarian government would be brought back to power with the support of the county’s poor. As such, the coup shone a spotlight on what was happening in Venezuela and eventually rallied progressives around the world to support the Bolivarian (and now socialist) project.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly for the future evolution of the Venezuelan conflict, the coup was the third nail in the political coffin of the country’s old elite. The first such nail was Chavez’s election in 1998, which brought an explicitly anti-establishment figure into Venezuela’s presidency for the first time in forty years. The second nail was the passage of the 1999 constitution and Chavez’s confirmation as President, in 2000, which democratically swept the country’s old elite almost completely out of political power, such as the governorships, the Supreme Court, and the National Assembly. With the third nail, the failure of the 2002 coup, the opposition lost a base of power in the military and a significant amount of good will in the international community. The next three nails, the failed 2002-2003 oil industry shutdown, the August 2004 recall referendum, and the December 2006 presidential election, only further solidified the old elite’s demise as a political force in Venezuela.

Each of these victories against the opposition heightened consciousness in Venezuela about the need to take the Bolivarian revolution further and thus also allowed Chavez to further radicalize his political program. The coup attempt represented a crucial moment in this process because it was the most dramatic expression of the Venezuelan conflict between a charismatic President and a mobilized poor population on the one hand and the country’s old elite and their supporters on the other.

Read the full article here.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

A view of Venezuela from the up escalator 

These days poorly researched and error riddled anti-Chavez newspaper articles are a dime a dozen. I’ve long since given up on commenting on them as that be all this blog would be about. Besides, the new kid on the block, BoRev.net, seems to have the media scene well under control.

However, in doing some research I ran across an article that is so poorly written, so hyleriously absurd, just so plain stupid that once I got over laughing I had to wonder what the deal was with the person who wrote it. Typing under the influence maybe?

Anyways, it would be unfair not to share the laughter so here we go:

Venezuela is Libya Twenty Years Ago

If newspaper inches and TV airspace are any indication of national success, Venezuela and its president Hugo Chávez are doing great. Recently, Chávez quite deliberately shadowed George W. Bush, country by neighboring country during his visit to Latin America, taunting the “little gentleman from the north,” and calling for the “Gringo to go home.” In both the U.S. and South America, some pundits saw Bush’s trip as an attempt to counter spreading Chávismo.
Chávez should have stayed home where there’s a disaster brewing. His country is developing a striking resemblance to the Libya of 20 years ago, when that oil-rich country practically starved. Back then, another firebrand revolutionary was eager to rally his people – in the name of Pan-Arabism, rather than Chávez’s Pan-Latinism. Muammar al-Qaddafi was exporting revolution, wearing the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, ever popular anti-American mantle.

What is it with these comparisons to Castro, Mugabe, and now Qaddafi? It would seem, the more elections Chavez wins the more determined his opponents become to paint him as a dictator. “Maybe if we say it enough it will come to be” – is that the thinking?

But the best part is there is “a disaster brewing”?!?!? Wow, sounds serious. The guy has my attention.

But the similarities reach far beyond ideology.
As was the case in Libya, while its leader prances around in symbolic outfits and poses, Venezuela is falling apart. After eight years in power, Chávez has yet to use his country’s huge oil revenues to invest in infrastructure. And at the same time capital, both foreign and local, is either fleeing or being ejected. It takes no more than a day in Venezuela to see the problems.

No investment in infrastructure? Damn, does that mean these trains really are imaginary after all? Come to think of it, all these things sure looked like they might have been photoshopped.

Serously though, wonder how Mr. Economides could have missed them all? Maybe seeing Venezuela takes more than a day after all.

I had not visited the country in several years, and although I had heard the claims of the anti-Chávez crowd, I saw the situation for myself. The similarities to a Libya visit I made almost exactly 20 years ago were eerie. Upon my arrival at the Caracas airport, the up escalator was out of order – making it tough to carry heavy luggage to the next floor. On my attempted flight to Maracaibo, the airport gate signs were active but none was even remotely accurate, neither for destination nor time. Gate assignments were changing by word of mouth. Announcements were made only in Spanish, again echoes of the Arabic-only announcements at the Tripoli airport then.

The airport sounds in bad shape. Indeed it is. The 1970s era drab and aging concrete structure would turn anyone off. Oops, wrong tense. See the Chavez government recently rebuilt the airport so that, at least to an unsophisticated person like me, it looks nice and spiffy. Hell, it even has a T.G.I.F. restaraunt.

The above pictures notwithstanding the escalator not functioning certainly is disconcerting. It was when I went to the local shopping mall and noticed that one of the escalators wasn’t working that I finally realized the U.S. was in an irreversible state of decline under Bush. I think you can tell everything you need to know about a country by the state of its escalators.

Now, Venezuelans speaking spanish all the time - THAT is a problem. I could almost forgive Chavez all his failures on the crime problem if he would just get the bastards to speak english.

I asked about an ATM machine and the airline agent looked at me with incredulity. “You want to change dollars?” And then and there he offered me 3,000 Bolivars to the dollar, way above the official 2,150. Soon I found out he had actually short-changed me. The going rate is 4,000 and last month went as high as 5,000.
While the official inflation rate is 20 percent, it is probably a lot higher. For food items, especially staples such as sugar, milk and meat, it is at least double that. Food shortages and the ubiquitous lines, often created by rumors, spring up everywhere. The government, in denial, exacerbates the situation by mandating price controls to “help” the people.
Chicken is supposed to sell for $3 per kilogram but one cannot find any at that price. Paying the gouging $10 per kilogram is the only way to get one, my random co-passenger in the airplane explained. Food production in the country has all but died and food is imported mostly from Argentina and the hated United States.

Too bad for him he missed the roaring 90’s. If he was impressed with 20% inflation he would have been blown away with the 100% inflation.

BTW, I did kind of get concerned about the chicken story – until I noticed it came second hand from the random rich person sitting next to him on the plane. What an idiot. Doesn’t he realize that person has almost certainly never bought a chicken in their whole pampered life? His maid does all that kind of dirty work for him.

As to the price – sounds like the rich sucker is getting fleeced by his maid. You go girl!

En route from the Maracaibo airport, the highway is decrepit, the victim of maintenance neglect, a far cry from its condition just five years ago.

Interesting. Everytime I’ve been to Zulia the roads seemed fine. In any event, I guess his handlers forgot to tell him that the person who would be responsible for the roads there is one of Chavez’s top opponents and in fact ran against him in the presidential campaign. Poor guy, he seems to have never known where he was.

To be sure, the Chávez personality cult is everywhere. Practically every billboard, from soccer tournaments to commercial projects, beams his face. He is president, revolutionary, but also a Latin dandy. I had hopes that checking into the venerable Del Lago hotel, for years a city landmark and run by the Intercontinental chain, would offer a reprieve from the day’s earlier impressions, but these evaporated quickly. I was informed that “a truck ran into the phone lines” and that we would have neither telephone nor Internet “until Tuesday.” And that’s when I found out that the hotel is now under management by Venetur, Venezuela’s new national tourist agency. This was too much, because the “truck” (I am not making this up) had also destroyed the phone lines of my Libyan hotel 20 years ago.

Don’t worry my friend, after this article I would NEVER think you would make anything up. Really, I’ve never read a more credible piece of journalism – NOT. So I’m not all that worried all those beautiful bikini clad women hawking beer have been plastered over with pictures of a fat dictator.

That’s the problem with revolutionary fervor everywhere. It has a historically nasty habit of not being able to feed people. In Venezuela’s case, $75 oil can plaster over crying needs and allow a lot of pompous puffery. Declining prices, even slightly declining ones, could bring even more misery, exactly as they did in Libya in the 1980s.

Personally if a person can’t even open their eyes and see what is going around them I’m not sure I’m going to put much credence in their sweeping generalizations. But thanks for the laughs!

I’m sorry you probably didn’t learn much from this post. But it is nice to have a good laugh once in a while and at least for me this sure did provide one.


What the opposition really thinks about separation of powers and rule of law 

April 11th, 12th, and 13th mark the fifth anniversary of the opposition managing to get back into power. No they didn’t win an election. They did what for them is the old fashioned way – they overthrew the government. It worked, at least for a couple of days.

Unfortunately those were days of tumult and bloodshed. But as the saying goes, there is no bad from which some good does not come. This is no exception.

The good in this case is that the Venezuelan people got a little insight into what the opposition is all about, and how they would operate if they were in power.

The opposition claims to be for good government, rule of law, and separation of powers. All sounds good. So how did they do during there 48 hour chance to shine and show the whole world how a GOOD government could be run? Lets take a look at what they did, starting with the founding decree of their government the famous Carmona Decree which was read at the swearing in of the Carmona government and was applauded and signed in support of by a veritable who’s who of the opposition (very curiously, this document was written days in advance of April 11th, seemingly indicating the events of that day were not spontaneous):

Act of Constitution of the Transitional Government of National Unity

The Venezuelan people, true to their republican tradition of struggling for independence, peace, and liberty, represented by diverse sectors organized by the national democratic society, with the backing of the united Armed Forces in a act of patriotic reaffirmation and to recover the democratic institutions and our constitutional path, and utilizing its legitimate right to reject any regime, legislation, or authority that are contrary to the values and principle democratic guarantees established in article 350 of the Constitution of December 30th, 1999.
In agreement with the tenets and principles established in the InterAmerican Democratic Charter signed by the member of the Organization of American States including Venezuela.

That yesterday, the 11th of April 2002, a date that will be remembered with profound indignation and national sadness, there occurred violent events in the city of Caracas that owed to orders given by the government of Hugo Chavez Frias to attack, repress and murder innocent Venezuelans that peacefully demonstrated around Miraflores palace and inflicting upon them grave crimes against the humanity of the Venezuelan people.


Considering: That Hugo Chavez Frias and his government from their high positions have instigated to commit crimes, sponsored violence against all types of private property, as well as obstaculized investigations....

Considering: That Hugo Chavez Frias and his government have irresponsibly promoted a climate of confrontation and social violence, contrary to national unity, democratic pluralism and the principles and values of democracy, against all the institutions and sectors of Venezuelan society.

Considering: That Hugo Chavez Frias and his government have planned and executed a foreign policy contrary to the highest economic, political, and social interests of the nation, bringing about an isolation with grave consequences for the country, having an ambiguous policy with respect to international terrorism and developing undeniable links to the Colombian narcoguerillas.


Considering: That Hugo Chavez Frias yesterday presented his resignation from the position of President of the Republic before the High Command of the Armed Forces, and the Vice-president of the Republic abandoned his office which has brought about a constitutional vacuum of power, so that the republican government can be adapted to the demands of the situation and constitutional principles and to those established in the InterAmerican Democratic Charter

We Decree:

Constructing a democratic transitional government of national unity in the following form under the following principles:

Article 1: Is designated the citizen Pedro Carmona Estanga, Venezuelan, of age, and with I.D. number 1.262.556 be President of the Republic. He assumes by this act immediately the position of Head of State and the National Executive for the period established in this decree. The President of the Republic with the Council of Ministers is empowered to give such edicts as are necessary for the execution of this decree and the consolidation of the national government.

Article 2: Is re-established the name Republic of Venezuela, by which will be identified our homeland from this moment on.

Article 3: Are suspended from their offices the deputies and their alternates of the National Assembly. National legislative elections will be head no later than the end of December 2002 to elect the members of the National Legislative Power, which will be empowered to reform the Constitution of 1999.

Article 4: Is created Consultative Council which will exercise the functions of advising the President of the Republic. The Council of State will be composed of 35 principle members and their alternates representing the diverse sectors of Venezuelan democratic society; the principle members can temporarily leave their seats without losing the right to occupy positions within the National Executive, state, or municipal governments and their temporary absence will be covered by their alternates. The Consultative Council will elect from its members a president, two vice-presidents and a secretary. The Consultative Council will be made up of 35 citizens named by decree.

Article 5: The President of the Republic of Venezuela will coordinate the national democratic transition policies and other acts necessary to secure the state and municipal powers.

Article 6: National general elections will be held within 365 days beginning from today’s date. The transitional government will cease to exist once a new democratically elected president assumes office. The President of the Republic designated in this act cannot be a candidate for the Presidency in the said elections.

Article 7: The President of the Republic with the Council of Ministers can designate temporarily the heads of the public powers, at the national, state and local level to assure democratic institutionality and adequate rule of law, along with Venezuela’s representatives before the Andean and Latin American parliaments.

Article 8: Is decreed the reorganization of the public powers with the purpose of recovering their autonomy and independence and assuring a peaceful and democratic transition, from which posts will be hereby deposed those illegitimately occupying them at the present including the President and Magistrates of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General of the Republic, the Comptroller of the Republic, the Omnsbudsman, and the members of the National Electoral Council. The President of the Republic with the Council of Ministers will consult with the Consultative Counsel will designate as rapidly as possible the citizens who will exercise those positions.

Article 9: Are hereby suspended the 48 decrees with the force of law, dictated in accordance with the Enabling Law of November 13, 2000. The President of the Republic will install a commission to review the said laws made up of representatives of the diverse sectors of society.

Article 10: Remain in effect the judicial order in as much as it is not revised by this decree nor by orders of the newly constituted transitional government. Similarly are kept in effect all the international commitments properly entered into by the Republic of Venezuela.

Article 11: The democratic and national unity transitional government will relinquish its powers and give account of its actions to the Public Powers that are legitimately named in accordance with what is established in this decree and other constitutional and legal orders.

Given in the Palace of Miraflores in the city of Caracas on the 12th day of the month of April 2002. The 191st year of independence and 142nd of Federation.

Ladies and gentlemen for the purpose of moving forward with this project of all the national democratic society, in the entrance to this hall we ask you to sign the decree that has just been read to as a way of joining this process.

Separation of powers? Lets see – the self-proclaimed President promptly eliminated the constitution, the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the National Electoral Council, the Comptroller, and the People’s Ombudsman. Damn, that isn’t separation of powers, that is the elimination of just about every single independent and democratically elected power in the country. And mind you while this decree was read the opposition goons were raiding homes to try to find and arrest elected mayors and governors that they didn’t like.

So it would seem that the opposition isn’t so big on separation of powers after all.

Surely though responsible organizations that support democracy and rule of law were outraged by what was happening and called for the restoration of Venezuela’s democratically elected government, right? Unfortunately not. In fact, the New York Times, which is now found of noting the supposed dire state of Venezuelan democracy right now, cheered the coup on rather loudly from the sideline:

New York Times, April 13, 2002
Hugo Chávez Departs
With yesterday's resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona. But democracy has not yet been restored, and won't be until a new president is elected. That vote has been scheduled for next spring, with new Congressional elections to be held by this December. The prompt announcement of a timetable is welcome, but a year seems rather long to wait for a legitimately elected president.

Washington has a strong stake in Venezuela's recovery. Caracas now provides 15 percent of American oil imports, and with sounder policies could provide more. A stable, democratic Venezuela could help anchor a troubled region where Colombia faces expanded guerrilla warfare, Peru is seeing a rebirth of terrorism and Argentina struggles with a devastating economic crisis. Wisely, Washington never publicly demonized Mr. Chávez, denying him the role of nationalist martyr. Rightly, his removal was a purely Venezuelan affair.

Public faith in Venezuela's institutions began eroding well before Mr. Chávez burst on the scene with a failed 1992 coup. Corruption discredited both main parties, and a patronage-fueled bureaucracy devoured the country's abundant oil revenues, leaving many Venezuelans desperately poor. Mr. Chávez was elected president in 1998 promising change he never delivered. He courted Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein, battled the media and alienated virtually every constituency from middle-class professionals, academics and business leaders to union members and the Roman Catholic Church.

This week's crisis began with a general strike against replacing professional managers at the state oil company with political cronies. It took a grave turn Thursday when armed Chávez supporters fired on peaceful strikers, killing at least 14 and injuring hundreds. Mr. Chávez's response was characteristic. He forced five private television stations off the air for showing pictures of the massacre. Early yesterday he was compelled to resign by military commanders unwilling to order their troops to fire on fellow Venezuelans to keep him in power. He is being held at a military base and may face charges in Thursday's killings.

New presidential elections should be held this year, perhaps at the same time the new Congress is chosen. Some time is needed for plausible national leaders to emerge and parties to reorganize. But Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.

One encouraging development has been the strong participation of middle-class citizens in organizing opposition groups and street protests. Continued civic participation could help revitalize Venezuela's tired political parties and keep further military involvement to a minimum.

Ok, ok, so institutionality did kind of take a hit that day. But at least basic human rights were upheld. Well, maybe not. In fact, in one little example of what would have happened had the coup not been reversed the state oil company opposition led management promptly fired 79 people. Fired for what? Supporting Chavez? Not participating in the coup or the strike that led up to it? Probably all of that.

Interesting how the opposition that complains about political blacklisting so quickly fired people in just the one working day they were in power. Wonder what would have happened if they had had a whole week in power!!!

BTW, for those who wish to see some video of the opposition frolicking in Miraflores this is a good one. Note the upstanding citizens signing the decree.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Enough to make a gringo cry with envy 

I'm sure everyone remembers well August 2004 when President Chavez was submitted to a vote by the Venezuelan people. Not a regular election mind you, a recall election. The Venezuelan constitution allows for any elected official to be subject to a recall vote halfway through their term should 20% of their constituents sign a petition calling for such a vote. Fortunately, Chavez just used the vote as yet one more oppertunity to give the opposition a good thumping.

Now there are a number of other elected officials throughout Venezuela who will possibly be facing a recall referendum. Here is a map of Venezuela with a listing of them:

These are the people who the petition effort against will begin shortly. The signatures will be gathered June 16, 17, and 18. If the 20% is gathered then there will be an recall election. For that election to be valid at least 25% of eligible voters must vote. Also, those wanting to recall an official must get at least 1 vote more than that person got when first elected and more than the number of people who vote for him to remain in office.

Note there are some interesting, if unsurprising, names on the list including three big named Chavistas - contraversial western Caracas mayor Freddy Bernal, the governor of Anzoategui, Tarek William Saab, and Yaracuy governor Carlos Gimenez. Should be interesting to see what happens.

In any event, it can't be lost on readers from the U.S. that president Bush recently passed the midway point of his term and if they had some of the rights Venezuelans do he could be recalled. Wouldn't that be fun!

Anyways, getting the right of recall written into the U.S. Consitution is probably asking for too much. Right now I'd settle for just getting that other thing Venezuelans have that we don't, one person one vote. If only we had had that back in 2000 think of all the grief that could have been avoided!


As was to be expected, it worked. 

You wouldn't know it from this blog, as I paid it no mind, but President Chavez's decision to restrict alcohol generated quite a bit of contraversy - from the usual suspects of course. No sooner does Chavez decide to do anything than his opponents start falling all over each other criticizing it. Heaven forbid they have to admit that Chavez actually made a good decision and did something worthwhile.

So of course, we had some calling calling the ban on alcohol a "bone-headed decision" while others equated it to mandating "less elbow-bending". Some of this criticism is particularly ironic coming from New York Times reporters. One can only imagine they haven't been back to the home office for quite some time - if they had been they'd know that pretty soon eating anything with trans-fats in them will be enough to get handcuffs slapped on you.

Of course, what matters isn't what a bunch of chronic naysayers think. What matters is whether or not the decision did any good.

It appears it did. Today we learn that automobile accidents were down 13.2%, injuries were down 11.2% and deaths were down 1%. Modest gains to be sure, but significant when one considers that there are hundreds of thousands more vehicles on the roads this year than last. And having hundreds fewer people going through the trauma of being in an accident and being injured more than justifies keeping people from hitting the booze for a few days.

Of course, there are other ways of combating drunk driving besides banning alcohol sales during holidays. Tough enforcement with sobriety checkpoints is one and Venezuela has them. Banning alcohol related advertising would be another idea that could prove effective and which I would like to see.

Needless to say though if that were done our same friends would immediately yelp about how limiting advertising infringes on their freedom of speech and probably some other non-sense that they would manage to dream up.

Fortunately for Venezuela Chavez has how to deal with these people down to an art form - he just ignores them. That sounds like another great idea by Chavez.


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