Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Venezuelan Electrical Power Crisis, Part II:  The Costs of Deprofessionalization and Corruption Under Chavez


Hydroelectric Turbines in a Venezuelan Dam Complex

I am going to do a followup to my previous entry on The Coming Electrical Power Disaster in Venezuela, this time by way of posting a translation of an article originally published in Venezuela's Revista Zeta magazine in late January, but which you can now see in its original Spanish on the Victor Poleo portal at  The article presents an interview with Poleo, who has now become regarded as the most knowledgeable critic of Chavez's energy policies writ large, but especially with respect to the electrical power shortage that is now doing such serious damage to the country and which has also become a major political issue.

I would suggest that everyone pay attention to two very important points Poleo makes in the interview, how the deprofessionalization of Venezuela's electric sector has led to gross mismanagement of the various EDELCA dam complexes in the country, whose water levels have been depleted unnecessarily according to Poleo; and the problems with the accounting for about 70% of the $35 billion dollars that has been appropriated for the electric sector between the years 1999 - 2009.  Since deprofessionalization itself is evidence of the corruption of the Chavez regime, which has removed competent professionals from key jobs within government-run operations throughout the electric sector in order to award employment to political favorites, the price Venezuelans are paying for it can barely be estimated when grouped together with tens of billions of dollars worth of unaccounted appropriations.  It is a striking and near-unbelievable story which pretty much speaks for itself.

"It Is Not Guri’s Fault"
By Aida Gutierrez
Interview with Victor Poleo Uzcátegui
Revista Zeta (Venezuela)
January 28, 2010, No. 1740-22

According to the ex-Electricity Director of the Ministry of Energy, Victor Poleo Uzcátegui, a preliminary estimate indicates that $50 billion was put into the Electrical Sector between the years 1999-2009, but scarcely 30% was spent on power generation and transmission projects. The delays in maintenance and expansion are dramatic.

"The country does not depend on Guri alone and what is happening is that a vile story is being spread from the presidency which attributes the current crisis to the Caroní hydroelectric complex," engineer and ex-Electricity Director Victor Poleo Uzcátegui stated in an exclusive interview with Zeta.

Poleo finds himself very busy and much in demand these days, as the foreign press turns to him to know and understand what is happening with electricity in Venezuela, paradoxically, now called "energy power."

As a preface to the interview the expert began to talk of the Lower Caroní, a system of cascading water hydroelectric dams:

Lower Caroni Dam Complexes
Dam ComplexStartup DateDaily OutputDelays?
Macagua I1961370 MW 
Guri I19683,000 MW 
Guri II19866,100 MW 
Macagua II19952,300 MW 
Macagua III1995360 MW 
Caruachi20042,300 MW(Delay of 2 years)
Tocoma20142,300 MW(Delay of 7 years)

--Guri is a regulated reservoir, the water passed through turbines in Guri is afterwards passed along to the lower dams in the following order: Tocoma, Caruachi, and Macagua.

Lower Caroni 1992:  EDELCA Projects of the Lower Caroní in 1992 - Note the startup operation dates entered for Caruachi and Tocoma, 2002 and 2007 respectively. Compare these with table above, which shows delays under Chavez.

--The Lower Caroni system by itself--he explains--does not satisfy national demand for electric power, he specified, but interacts with an accompaniment of thermoelectric centers, which use natural gas, diesel, and fuel oil as combustible fuels. Coal and orimulsion oil are also thermoelectric combustible fuels.

--The water of the Guri reservoir is from unsteady-state influx, i.e. the contributions to the Caroní Basin fluctuate historically between 6,500 and 3,500 cubic meters per second, according to records from 1950 to the present.

He pointed out that thermal power generation is from fixed-state influx, i.e. plant machinery such as at Planta Centro or Tacoa or Arrecifes can be activated in a short time.

"The art of mixing water power generation with thermal power generation is the art of optimizing the usage time of the Guri reservoir. On the one hand, one does not want to reduce the amount of water stored in Guri to too low a level because there will be barrels of combustible fuels lost to make up the shortfall. On the other hand, one does not unnecessarily "burn" barrels of thermoelectric combustibles” (if there is water in the reservoir) Poleo made clear.

--There then exists--he continues--an optimum mix of the hydro-thermal electric power system. To master and administrate such a formidable and complex task mathematical models are used, a kind of laboratory in which they simulate reservoir water levels over time compared against national electric power demand and then they "dispatch" the generation of hydro or thermal electric power in real time but placed within a future horizon.

--This task rests within the hands of the National Management Center (CNG), formerly OPSIS, which uses two types of "dispatch." One in real time (hours, days) which is operational dispatch. Another is in medium and long term planning, over 5 to 10 years.

--In Venezuela--the expert continued--mathematical models exist for load dispatch. One of them is PLHITER (Spanish acronym for Hydro-Thermal Planning), developed by a team of Venezuelan engineers and mathematicians, in use since the mid-80's by EDELCA, CADAFE, and CNG (formerly OPSIS).

He obligingly clarified that PLHITER is therefore an instrument of planning.

Those responsible for the electric power crisis

Poleo considers that "the deprofessionalization of the Electrical Sector since 2003 has become an infringement upon the planning of the Venezuelan electrical sector, also a consequence of the "anti-planning" of the nation, a task which rests in the Ministry of Planning, but a task they have taken up irresponsibly, like the President of the Republic in his Sunday outbursts.

--The electrical sector--he stresses--doubles its investment every 15 years, as a function of demographic growth and industrial activity. Medium and long term plans existed in 2000, but the projects were not implemented thanks to embezzlement, waste and corruption.

Electrical sector funding and spending

--It is our ongoing estimate that during the period 1999-2009 money appropriated to the Electrical Sector can be placed on the order of at least $50 billion (U.S.), according to the following:

Electrical Power Sector Budgetary Inputs:  1999 - 2009
1Ordinary fiscal budget$7 billion
2Additional Appropriations$700 million
3Electrical Power Invoices$27 billion
4Additional spending (preliminary)$15 billion

--To judge by the thermoelectric power station's current shortages and based upon a sampling of CADAFE projects, it is our conjecture that scarcely 30% of the power generation and transmission projects were carried out.

Note:  The Planta Centro Thermoelectric Plant is now completely out of service and inoperational and the Uribante Caparo Dam Hydroelectric Complex was no longer producing electrical power as of January, 2010, which means that the $681 million appropriated for the two projects represents both massive waste and gross mismanagement under Chavez's administration.

--Hence the current electrical crisis, already predicted as of 2000, a consequence of not making the investments in thermoelectric power centers--the specialist assured us.

"Those responsible for the crisis: Jorge Giordani in the Planning Office, Rafael Ramirez in PDVSA-Energy and, responsible for selecting them, Hugo Chavez," Poleo stated.

Giordani, in particular, broke the golden rule of strategic planning when he blocked our future options by rejecting hydroelectric power development in the Upper Caroní as far in to the future as 2030.

Lower and Upper Caroní 1992:  Giordani blocked our future options by rejecting hydroelectric power development in the Upper Caroní as far in to the future as 2030.

"The electrical power crisis is a political crisis"

--What is the relationship between Guri's water level and electric power savings?

--On January 10, 2010, the elevation of the water level at the Guri reservoir was measured at 260.58 meters above sea level, or 56% of the usable volume of power-producing water. Today, January 23, 2010, the elevation of the Guri reservoir is measured at 258.20 meters, or 49% of the usable volume of power-producing water at Guri.

--The electrical power "savings" over these two weeks signifies a diminution of 7% of the usable volume, so the trend is predictable.

--Without having the hydro-thermal electric power system, the room to maneuver in the thermoelectric power plants that was announced a thousand times since 2000 and never implemented means that the Guri reservoir will be exhausted in the short term.

--Then from there we will be obliged to ration to look after the value of the water in Guri, which will not be "savings" in the strict sense, only a sub-optimal administration of the Guri reservoir in the presence of thermoelectric deficiencies.

--The government says that the electrical power crisis is generated by the low level of the Guri reservoir. What is your opinion with respect to this statement?

--It sounds reasonable, it is a self-defining truth, a tautology, but the one responsible for the electrical power crisis is the anti-planning and deprofessionalized electrical power sector, amen to criminalizing the unauthorized use of electrical power appropriations.

--Does the rationing of electrical power contribute to resolving the problem?

--It does not "resolve" the current crisis, it only prolongs it, diluting the agony until 2012, in the hope of bringing the thermoelectric power centers online, which are still insufficient in their capacity and scheduled dates to do the job.

--"They should" do as indicated, i.e. maintenance and replacement, for which we require engineering and trade, affairs with which these by the book military men are unacquainted.

--What is happening with the savings in electricity?

--They are cubic meters of water saved for a better time.

--Does the entire country depend on Guri? Is the situation of this reservoir really that dramatic?

The country depends upon a vulgar political class that is intellectually impoverished, irresponsible, and criminal. The country does not depend on Guri--Poleo made clear--and a vile story is being spread around as a message from the presidency that attributes the current crisis to the Caroní hydroelectric complex, "all the eggs are in the same basket," in as much as the Venezuela of the second half of the 20th century rested deservedly upon abundant, clean, cheap, and renewable energy.

--If we did not have the Caroní, today we would be burning the equivalent energy of 570 thousand barrels in gas, diesel and fuel oil. It is a volume we have been left to export. The Caroní adds rent to the petroleum rent.

--CORPOELEC warns that if the water level at Guri continues to fall, in 120 days the production of electricity in the country could collapse. Is this right?

--A problem poorly identified is a problem poorly resolved. There is disinformation from CORPOELEC and, predictably, the warnings from the EDELCA professionals hold true.

--CORPOELEC blundered when it announced pointless rationing in Caracas, a "savings" of 200 MW facing a daily shortfall of 2,000 MW, a deficit that does not include another 2,000 MW which, in theory, they would have to assign using a backup plan that eventually will revolve around rationing power for the use of excess machinery.

--What is your prediction for the electrical power situation in the country? What should we expect and what should be done?

--The electrical power crisis is a political crisis, it does harm to the welfare of society and national economic activity. Shutting down the industries of Guayana City disables its construction materials industry (beams, metal rods, shuttering mesh, fence wire, etc.); the metalworking manufacturing industry (aluminum door and window frames, packaging products, etc.) and in the oil and gas industry (tubing and pipes). A nation without economic activity, a dead Guayana City.

--The solution to the electrical power crisis is political, nothing other than a political change. Urge Chavez to resign and bring about a wise transition into the hands of a sane society that rejects the past and the present, Poleo Uzcátegui recommends.


The crisis is nearly unfathomable from our perspective.  There are tens of billions of dollars (U.S.) that have been appropriated and which are now missing, the plant complexes are not producing the electrical power the country needs--some of their most important are either out of operation or stagnant, the Venezuelan economy has been thrown into negative GDP as a result of the energy shortfall, and Chavez's answer is to bring in Cuban advisors whose only expertise is in internet regulation and worse.

This is Venezuela under Hugo Chavez.  Forget the propaganda you read from and elsewhere.  Let them tell you the lights are on in Caracas twenty-four hours a day or that the industries Guayana City are not shut down, or ... well, never mind.



Read More. . . .

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Coming Electrical Power Disaster in Venezuela


Guri Dam, Top Provider in the EDELCA Hydroelectric Power Complex

As I posted a couple of weeks ago, there is now evidence from a recent public opinion poll that Venezuelans are turning against Hugo Chavez in huge numbers.  Yeah, as if all that street protest action was not enough to convince anyone.  There are numerous reasons explaining why, but I would like to suggest that the most important come down to issues that are simple and present in the everyday lives of Venzuelans.

Venezuela is currently suffering from a number of economic and social ills.  There have been food shortages and rationing of vital commodities, such as water.  Economic growth has declined, the Bolivar has been devalued in a manner so confusing as to create widespread uncertainty, and if you add runaway inflation into the mix the attendant social consequences become easy to grasp.  Then there is the ever-present threat of violent crime.  But there is one particular problem of everyday life in Venezuela that may be more of a threat to El Primer Bolivariano than all the others, and it certainly will be a major issue in the parliamentary elections this year.

In Venezuela, the lights keep going out.

Origins of the Electrical Power Shortage:  Inattention to Rising Demand

Though there have been periodic problems with electrical power output and distribution over the past several years, things began to take a turn markedly for the worse by at least last September, when regular blackouts became a phenomenon that only added to other domestic ills facing the Venezuelan people.  The Chavez government has since moved with some fervor to restrict consumption of electricity, imposing rolling blackouts as well as announcing a series of what have been at times punitive and almost always confusing public edicts designed to compel Venzuelans to cut their consumption.  And while there are many factors which must be taken into account when explaining the current crisis, the most basic aspect of it is that the supply of electrical power in Venezuela is highly concentrated in the output of a few hydroelectric power installations, most prominently the Guri Dam complexes in the east of the country, which have been unable to keep up with an increase in demand, both for reasons of inadequate rainfall to replenish the reservoir's water levels as well as the inattention given to national energy production on the part of Chavez's regime.

Venezuela's use of electrical power has grown steadily throughout this decade, but its biggest increases mirrored the peak years of expansion of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  The critical years of growth in Venezuelan GDP were from 2004 - 2007, when a very rapid expansion fueled by rising oil prices created a more pronounced rise in electrical power use.

   Venezuelan GDP:  2003 - 2009

Figures for Venezuelan electrical power consumption rose most rapidly during the same four years of its explosion in GDP, growing from an average national daily use of 10,951 megawatts (MW) in 2004 to 12,882 MW in 2007, which represents an increase of 17.63% over the entire period, a significant change in aggregate Venezuelan electrical power demand.  The steady rate of growth is also important to note, since it informs us in part of the Chavez regime's forewarning of the present crisis.  If you take the 2004 increase over the previous year and average out the annual yearly percentage increase in electrical power use through 2007 it comes out to average growth rate of 6.05% per year.  With an annual rate of increase that accelerated electrical power consumption in the country at a steady pace, the need to fill growing demand cannot have been unforeseen.  In fact, the first warning of a potentially serious shortfall created by rising demand came from EDELCA, the government-owned Caroni Electrification District (in eastern Venezuela where the major hydroelectric complexes are located), in 2002; an alarm that was supported in later analyses over the next two years.  Chavez and his government were forewarned, but apparently paid little attention, even though dramatic economic growth provided them with the resources needed to address the danger.

Average Daily Demand for Electrical Power:  2002-2012

Venezuela's Vulnerability:  Concentration in Supply of Electrical Power

One of the most easily understood aspects of Venezuela's electrical power supply problem is that it is highly-concentrated in just a few hydroelectric power complexes managed by EDELCA for CORPOELEC, the national electric power company, which has an almost monopolistic control over the generation of power in the country.  While there are some smaller producing units involved in EDELCA's organizational structure, the overwhelming majority of their electric power production comes from four main complexes; Guri I and II, Macagua, and Caruachi.  The first three of these dams represent a very long-term construction project for Venezuela, beginning with a plan developed by 1949.  As of 1986 the Macagua and Guri complexes had an installed capacity of 10,000 MW, which though underutilized, was still significant.  The Caruachi complex was the final addition, beginning commercial operation in 2003, but not coming fully online until 2006.

With respect to the structure of Venezuela's electrical sector, the consequence of the Chavez regime's failure to heed the warnings from EDELCA and other experts who predicted an eventual shortfall in the electrical power supply is that it remained highly concentrated in the EDELCA hydroelectric generating complexes of the Guri, Macagua, and Caruachi Dams.  As of last year, some 70% of all electrical power generated in Venezuela originated there, which of course means that the supply would be available only so long as rainfall was sufficient to maintain high water levels in the reservoirs.  But Venezuela had a history of periodic dips in rainfall, as the EDELCA engineers and others had warned, which left the entire country vulnerable to a near catastrophic economic meltdown in the event of the recurring weather phenomenon commonly known as El Niño, which had historically reduced water levels in the several reservoirs before and could potentially do so again.

Average Daily Demand for Venezuelan Electrical Power in 2009

Recently, Chavez propagandists and apologists have attempted to explain the current electrical power mess as it relates to the diminished rainfall resulting from the El Niño phenomenon as an unforeseen climatological event.  Unfortunately, Venzuela's own National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology says differently, making clear they knew that at least three El Niño events over the last two decades had produced drought conditions in the country, especially the last one in 1997-1998:

. . . The effects of El Niño events have been perceived in the national territory, especially during the years 1992, 1996 and 1997-98.  This last event was characterized by deficits in rainfall, drought and positive temperature anomalies in the greater part of the country.  The Caroni River Basin, the main source of hydroelectric power generation of Venezuela, exhibited water flows below the historical average. . . .
National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology of Venezuela

In spite of an electrical power generating capacity that grew during the Chavez presidency, with the completion of the Caruachi Dam project begun before his term in office, Venezuelan experts who understood the problem of concentrated supply in the Caroni River Basin and its dependence upon uncertain rainfall levels had warned the regime of impending disaster.  But to what effect?

Triunfalismo:  The Chavez Program for Expanding Electrical Power Infrastructure

There has been a lot of triumphant publicity from Hugo Chavez and his government trumpeting their investments in Venezuela's electrical power infrastructure over the past decade, which their propagandists continually tout as evidence of the regime's successes in delivering for the Venezuelan people, but it has been mostly just pure press manipulation.  The real story of actual progress made on the ground in the implementation of plans and programs announced by the regime says something quite different.  Finding credible information which quantifies the reality of Venezuela's electrical power problems is difficult, but the best source one can turn to for what comes closest to accuracy is Victor Poleo, a former Vice Minister for Energy during the first two years of the Chavez presidency, but who has now emerged as one of the regime's most significant, and more importantly most knowledgeable, critics on the subject of energy policy.

Victor Poleo, Venezuela's Vice Minister for Energy from 1999 - 2001

Poleo has described the overall impact of Chavez's energy policy as one filled with "tragic errors", which are especially troubling for the differences between the amounts of state funds appropriated for electrical infrastructure development and those actually spent.  According to Poleo, now at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, who has access to better information than practically anyone outside the government itself, the Chavez regime has, across the eleven years of its administration, put some $35 billion (U.S.) at the disposal of the electric sector for which projects totaling some $7 billion have actually been approved and, of that latter amount, only 30%, perhaps $2.1 billion by inference, has in fact been spent.  And the accounting is troubling:

. . . The efficiency of what was actually spent versus what was appropriated can barely be located between 25% spent on transmission and 50% on generation. . . . There was therefore no disinvestment in the strict sense of the term, that is to say, shortages of money delivered to the electric sector.  The flaw is that there was misappropriation of these funds by the political, militarized, and civilian class, who are tasked with conducting the affairs of the electric sector. . . .
Victor Poleo

Across numerous articles on his portal at, Poleo has delivered a comprehensive and authoritative critique of the Chavez government's complete mishandling of the administration of the electric sector that drives home some of the biggest of the regime's many failures, but in this case, one that has had a noticeable impact upon many Venezuelans.  And where is it all going?  According to a report Poleo has prepared with a panel of related experts, which has recently been made public, a complete collapse of the electric sector is predicted for this year.  And it is not political posturing either.  Even EDELCA's own experts pointed out in December that the collapse was possible by April if national demand was not reduced by 1,600 MW daily.

Victor Poleo has done perhaps as much as anyone to put the lie to the triumphalist public relations campaign the Chavez regime and their propagandists, such as, have waged from the beginning with respect to the realities of the electric sector in Venezuela.  There has been a lot of noise, but very little of substance to the regime's energy policy.  And noise is not a good policy choice, nor good politics, when the material well-being of the citizenry is at stake.

We will have much to watch over the ensuing months as the electric power problem in Venezuela unfolds before us and, more importantly, before the Venezuelan people who are apparently aligning themselves behind the opposition in ways we have not seen previously.  The continuing problems of a failing electric power supply can only be expected to accelerate this trend.


Acknowledgement:  I would like to post a special message of thanks to Gustavo Coronel, who helped me in my search for credible source information I have used in this investigation.  StJ

Recommended Link: The Electricity Mess of Chavez for Dummies by Daniel Duquenal at Venezuela News and Views.

Update, Thursday, 6:27 p.m.:  Second recommended link - El "por ahora" se convierte en "¿y ahora?" ("For Now" becomes "What Now?") by Alek Boyd.  Though the entry is in Spanish, it contains a short video clip filmed during a blackout of a common citizen who has supported Chavez in the past who is now rethinking his earlier views and recognizes that backing Chavez was a mistake.  Alek has included sub-titles captioning the video in English.  I mentioned at the beginning that matters which affect the lives of ordinary Venezuelans are becoming the source of newfound opposition to Chavez.  Take a look and see for yourself.  StJ

Read More. . . .

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Martha Colmenares on the Futility of the Vote in Venezuela


I am going to post a translation of an article written by Martha Colmenares for Diario de América last year following Venezuela's second national referendum on extending the term limit for the office of President, which Hugo Chavez called by executive decree, after losing an earlier vote by a significant margin.  The "official results"--i.e. "the lie"--of the vote were reported as a Chavez victory, supposedly giving him a one million vote margin along with the option of continuing his presidential mandate indefinitely, which is where things now stand.  Obviously I do not believe the vote was as announced, but that is another story altogether, part of which will be told in this blog entry.

Before I get to the translation I want to offer an apology to Martha for my incorrect use of the term Ni-Nis, roughly translated as "neither-nors," as one that applies to all electoral abstentionists, which I used in my post of yesterday, as well as in comments I made within a forum discussion on her web site.  Martha has corrected me, pointing out that the term really applies most of all to the apathetic within Venezuelan political life who will not vote for either Chavez or his opposition.  Martha would be much better described as a willful abstentionist who seeks other means to bring about change in Venezuela.  Though I adopted the usage of the term from others, that is no excuse.  Martha is one of the most dedicated bloggers anywhere when it comes to the issues affecting human freedom and democracy and she deserves to be treated with genuine deference for all she has done.

As a gesture of my sincere respect, and indeed admiration, for Martha and her work I have decided to translate an article which states her own view of the futility of Venezuelan politics in very clear terms.  I think everyone will be able to see that there is a solid foundation of evidence to prove that the electoral system under Chavez has been corrupted totally, I know I am convinced, and whatever one's outlook may be on the path to hopeful change, dealing with the electoral hurdle is a most significant problem.

Martha's answer to the obvious question of how Chavez can be confronted successfully and Venezuela reformed for the better is Mass Civil Disobedience.  I certainly do not argue with the proposal, though I do not see it as antithetical to electoral political activism.  And I especially should mention that when the moment comes for Chavez to go, I do not expect it will be as the consequence of an election result all by itself.  No; Chavez will have to be forced out in one way or another, I just believe that the electoral process must be part of the mix of the witches brew that will have to be concocted to make him leave.

I will let Martha tell her story in a way English-language readers can understand.  And with everything I know about her I want to take this moment to say that I know the story she tells is the truth.  You can believe Martha Colmenares.

Chavez's Rigged Election Was Announced
February 17, 2009

Illegally, the official vote counts do not reflect real votes, and the regime does not even have to reveal the official results.

By Martha Colmenares

Introduction: Chavez's grand strategy is to continue balancing the appearance of democracy with the reality of totalitarianism.

The main thing is that in a country where there is no law, whether one votes or not does not matter. The reason why it does not matter is very clear: The regime says what the results of the voting are and its word is final, as happened in the referendum last December 2, 2007, so that one has every reason to believe that the amendment's rejection was overwhelming, nevertheless, the regime also stated that the decision was almost a tie, and there left the matter to rest, and there was no legal recourse to know the official results, which certainly have little to do with the actual results.

This says that, without legal restraints, the official vote counts do not reflect actual votes, and the regime does not even have to reveal the official results. It might be a first reason for understanding that whether one votes or not does not matter.

The second reason is that you can win every amendment referendum in the world, and reform still proceeds as if Chavez had won instead. There can be no forgetting that the dictator Gómez governed Venezuela, literally, from his home for decades without being president of the republic.

Chavez can put any candidate on the ballot as he pleases, including the terrorist "The Jackal", and still have himself elected President, so that he remains the boss, and everyone knows that he is the one giving orders. And if any corrective action is needed, then once again he can amend the constitution to create the office of "Head of Government", or "Head of State," "Meritorious Hero," "Lord Protector", "Ayatollah", etc., in a way in which Chavez continues being the one who gives orders.

To illustrate this nothing more is needed than to see what happened with the constitutional reform that was rejected scarcely one year ago: the regime submitted it anew, and again, there was no legal recourse to stop it.

The third reason is the farce that we are seeing today, that we voted on the same thing that was rejected one year ago. If this is the way things really were, we would have a presidential recall referendum every year as well, but as it turns out, since there is no law, the regime may submit the same referendum as many times as it wants to win it, but when it is opposed, then it is spared and it denies the right of people to decide, as happened when we rejected the consultative referendum, the recall petition signatures, re-signatures, all the damned signatures.

The fourth reason is that there was no reason to pay attention to the call of those who showed up to vote NO on that occasion, because those people are the same ones who time and again were called upon for a vote against the regime and then left it to steal the election.

Chavez's grand strategy is to continue balancing the appearance of democracy with the reality of totalitarianism. That is, one must recognize that Chavez has been very competent in maintaining the balance by allowing a little bit of criticism within the mass media to maintain the appearance of freedom of expression as he goes about censoring that criticism, keeping it at a "simmer"; while today, he has already shut down Radio Caracas's public signal, bought those of Venevisión, and by terrorizing journalists, newspapers, radio and television stations, he has created a climate of self-censorship that is steadily becoming more effective in silencing criticism altogether.

When a naive person from afar asks: "But if Chavez is another gorilla, where are the thousands of disappeared or incarcerated journalists?", and there is no response, then that naive person becomes bored and no longer believes that there is a tyranny.

The same thing is done with elections. Another balancing act, on the one hand creating the appearance of democracy, while on the other, through the use of official advantadge (i.e., using all the nation's resources to promote his candidates), through the biased application of laws, vote fraud, and by reholding elections he loses (which by the way, as he did last year, Chavez at times accepts a defeat here, as in government office X, or there, as in referendum Y), gaining the appearance of having his agenda approved by democratic elections.

The farce is sufficiently well done so that both the dumb as well as the vivacious (those who get the most from Chavez) gain from the world they created, with each new election bringing another turn of the nut of totalitarianism.

It bothers me that most of those who call themselves opponents of the Chavez regime resign themselves to playing his balancing game, to me it is very clear that in this manner they do not achieve anything more than giving him the legitimacy he needs to put an end to the awakening of the world community who would be the only ones who could put the brakes on him, giving shelter to the defenders of democracy in Venezuela and denying him international support for his regime.

The reason why there are politicians in Venezuela still calling people out to vote is easy to explain: To legitimize the regime in elections means that the regime has to concede just a small share of its power to them, and that is what politicians calling people out to vote are seeking.

As we have seen, it matters little whether or not people elect an opponent of Chavez, because if they elect a Chavista, the one they choose steals what is dear to people, and if they choose an anti-Chavista, then the Chavez regime takes away resources and designated authority (as is happening with the recently elected governors and mayors) only to give those resources and powers to their own followers so that they in turn become the ones who do the stealing. Therefore I say that the people are screwed every which way.

Indeed, it seems appropriate to clarify that although Chavez has been competent in maintaining the critical balance, he has stumbled more than once, including in April 2002, which, we remember, was because Chávez needed to purge the oil industry of qualified personnel to fill it with his most loyal supporters, and then, he created that huge provocation by humiliating and insulting its managers so as to force his opposition to reveal itself in protests; the problem is that the provocation was so great that the protest literally spun out of control and he lost the presidency when he ordered the killing of some of the two million protesters demanding his resignation and was disobeyed.

Which brings me to the last part of this introductory reflection, the manner of defending democracy in Venezuela is not voting, because in that way what can be achieved at the ballot box (if anything!) is lost a little at a time indirectly legitimizing the Chavez regime which does exactly the opposite of what was won at the polls; but rather by DISOBEYING. The regime must be disobeyed in every way possible; but before doing so, we must organize ourselves so that everyone acts at the same time.

What happened this past February 15th, 2009 in the process of voting on the term limit amendment?

In a shameless use of official advantadge, motorized gangs intimidated the citizenry starting at dawn, up to the point where Chavista bands injured people with baseball bats and chains. It happened the day before and the leadership of the CNE turned a blind eye. Of course that went unpunished. So be it, the proclamation of victory went out on the state channel with that of Chavez's own PSUV party, when it was prohibited, as ordered by the man himself, so that they would close any media outlet that issued anticipated results.

How could they know the results as early as 4 pm? Clearly, that is why they lengthened the process two more hours, when voting hurriedly was not justified. At 4 p.m. the "No" votes exceeded the "Yes" by more than 10.5% and they then nailed it down, using WI-Fi communications between 4 and 6 p.m.; the Chavistas were supposedly celebrating their victory already at 4 p.m.

A pro-Chavez governor voted twice, tore up ballots, committed electoral crimes and nothing was done, on the other hand the student leadership was raided by state security forces according to some five witness affidavits.

Chavez used the daily television channels to insult us, everything that gave him pleasure, he told us he was going to grind us up dozens of times. What does this mean? That Chavez was bragging about his rigged election.

Rigging the electoral registry, the disaster of the voting machines and, is there anything here that Chavez does not own? The Supreme Court, National Assembly, electoral office, militias, army, public ministry, money, oil, everything, everything. No one wins against all this.

In case this is not shameful enough, what about the statements of the "opposition leadership" which legitimized or are legitimizing an electoral office that is controlled by Chavez? They even went so far as to cheerfully recognize the results of five million for the opposition to six for the Chavistas.

In conclusion, I am ashamed of this "opposition leadership" (which does not represent me) that tries to ignore what can only be called ongoing electoral fraud, and in its place goes on speaking such nonsense as "if they lost it was because of electoral abstention" and speaking poorly of the abstentionists and telling I do not know how many more fairy tales ...

This is a perspective worth knowing.



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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Note to the Ni-Nis: "Even If You Lose, You Still Win!"


I have been trying to concentrate on preparing a post on the issue of electrical power in Venezuela, which is rather complex when all things are considered, but I have found myself distracted by my desire to participate in a fascinating discussion at Martha Colmenares's blog on the subject of electoral abstentionism which I just could not draw myself away from to attend to my own blogging.  I recently posted a translation of an editorial by Venezuelan author Ibsen Martinez which addressed the matter with what I consider to be a sophisticated, articulate, and pragmatic understanding of politics within a representative democracy.  But I am fascinated by the persistent view of many, both within Venezuela and without, who believe that some other option to the vote is the only hope of bringing about a truly democratic result and that therefore they should boycott the electoral process altogether.

To those who may be unfamiliar with the political process in Chavez's Venezuela, the idea of making it more democratic by abstaining from it may appear to be a course of action without any foundation in reality.  This is not so.  There is absolutely no doubt that Chavez has benefited from electoral fraud conducted on an almost unimaginable scale.  The allegations of this first surfaced in the aftermath of the recall referendum of 2004 in Venezuela, which supposedly were dispelled in a review the Carter Center conducted which discounted them.  But there were serious problems with the Carter Center's examination of the allegations, as a subsequent study prepared by two quantitative analysts from Harvard and MIT demonstrated.  And there is much more, as a series of articles one can still view at make clear, especially with respect to the unbelievably fraudulent electoral register.  And none of this even begins to touch upon the very alarming issue of two-way modem communication between Smartmatic voting machines and polling places.  There is so much more to electoral fraud in Venezuela under Chavez, but the point here is that the abstentionists have both logic and evidence on their side as they justify their withdrawal from the process, given that the proof of fraud is overwhelming and they have no legal means to address it, since the National Electoral Council (CNE) is totally under Chavez's control.

But however reasonable the argument of abstentionists that the electoral process in Venezuela is corrupted may be, the consequences of their willful withdrawal from it cannot be discounted either, because it gave Chavez full and total control of Venezuela's National Assembly.  As Ibsen Martinez argued "the result of such nonsense [i.e. militant abstentionism] has been what Chavez has counted upon for four years with an assembly joyously at the service of all his designs."  And I agree wholeheartedly with Martinez.  Turning over the entire ship of state to Chavez has been one of the most calamitous political miscalculations anywhere and the abstentionists must be held to account for it.

Thus do we return to that forum discussion that has distracted me for these past two days.  Though I am fully in agreement with the analysis so many have offered that a true, democratic result cannot be expected from the Venezuelan electoral system so long as the National Electoral Council serves as nothing more than a rubber stamp for Chavez, the electoral register is fraudulently inflated, two-way communication between electronic voting machines persists without oversight of its code, and the international community will not insist upon a legitimate vote; I am more convinced than ever that abstentionism at this moment will have unbelievably tragic consequences.  At this critical time in Venezuela's recent political history the opposition to Chavez has gained a momentum it has never had before; so much so that the only proper strategy for the Venezuelan resistance to pursue is one of confronting the regime on all fronts, which is precisely what I argued within the forum discussion, where I post under the username "Jacobo."

But the best point made within that entire exchange was one offered by a poster named Nico Alijuna who pleaded for a strengthening of the ever-growing opposition, which is an undeniable political phenomenon at present, with the simple observation that "if you lose, you still win."  I consider this to be the final word on the folly of abstentionism and I urge those who continue to abstain, the so-called Ni-Nis, to learn from their past mistakes and rethink their actions.  The Venezuelan opposition needs their participation.



Update, February 14, 10:25 p.m.

I have posted another entry today in which I correct myself for what I now understand to be a not-altogether acceptable use of the term Ni-Ni, which perhaps should not be applied to all electoral abstentionists, as some are more willful in their rejection of the utility of the vote and remain quite politically active nonetheless.  StJ


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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Caracas Mayor: "There is a Cuban Invasion Here"


Metropolitan Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma

I am going to post a translation of an article up yesterday (Saturday) at the Caracas newspaper site El Universal that contains a public statement of a prominent Venezuelan public figure that can only be viewed as representing a direct challenge to the Hugo Chavez regime.  In the article Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of "Metropolitan Caracas"--a somewhat confusing term after the implementation of the Capital District Law of 2009, in which Chavez stripped him of a significant portion of his authority--charges that Venezuelan sovereignty has been significantly compromised by what Ledezma calls a "Cuban invasion."  What I find particularly important about the statement is that the Mayor calls upon the Venezuelan Armed Forces to explain why the country is "being invaded by a foreign government."  These kinds of appeals cannot be going down easy among Chavez's supporters, who understand that the population is in earnest.

Before I get to the translation itself, there are two matters I wish to address in brief.  First; I would like to give a little background on Antonio Ledezma, who I think is a man Venezuelans, especially those in the capital city, will pay attention to when he speaks.  And second; I want to give a short overview of the issues raised in the mission of Cuban General Ramiro Valdes, perhaps the number three man in Cuba after Fidel and Raul Castro, who has arrived in Venezuela ostensibly to help "fix" the country's electrical power generation problems, but who instead has created widespread fears of an impending campaign of political repression of a much more dangerous sort than we have seen from Hugo Chavez to date.

Antonio José Ledezma Díaz, 54 years old, has served in Venezuelan public life for almost two decades.  From 1992-1993 he was the Governor of what was then the Federal District of Caracas, an entity that was later abolished.  He later served as Mayor of the Libertador Municipality, which forms part of Greater Caracas, from 1996-2000.  He became one of the first Venezuelan politicians to challenge Hugo Chavez successfully in the Caracas area, generally considered a bastion of Chavismo, in 2008 when he defeated Chavez's hand-picked candidate Aristobulo Isturiz in the Caracas Mayor's race, only to see the National Assembly reduce his power in the already-mentioned Capital District Law of last April.  He is a member of the splinter political party Alianza Bravo Pueblo (Fearless People's Alliance), though he was formerly affiated with Acción Democrática, one of the historical social democratic parties that is now trying to overcome its greatly-diminished power of recent years; in no small part a consequence of their abstentionist political stance in recent elections.

Cuban General Ramiro Valdes
Source:  AFP/Getty Images

In the interview with El Universal I am introducing in this entry, Ledezma raises serious concerns over the expanding presence of thousands of Cuban advisors and military personnel, and which directly references General Ramiro Valdes, formerly Cuba's interior minister and Government Vice President, who recently has been in charge of Cuban internet "regulation."  Those who have followed events in Cuba closely will know that this obviously entails much of the Castro regime's recent repressive acts against Cuban bloggers.  And Valdes's personal history as Interior Minister in Cuba does not inspire confidence among Venezuelans, or anyone else observing honestly for that matter, that the essence of his task relates to repairing Venezuela's very serious electrical power generation problems, which are the source of significant dissatisfaction with Chavez's rule among Venezuelans.  As you will be able to see, Ledezma is absolutely unconvinced that the Valdes mission has anything to do with electrical power generation.

One other point to mention about the article.  You will notice that the persistent problem of public safety, i.e. "insecurity," again crops up in the interview with Mayor Ledezma, who is obviously seeking to reverse the effects of the Capital District Law of 2009 with respect to the maintenance of public order.  This is a major issue with many in Caracas.

"Ledezma:  There is a Cuban Invasion Here"
03:22 PM Caracas. - The Mayor, Antonio Ledezma, lashed out at the presence in the country of Cuban Minister Ramiro Valdes, and stated that the Armed Forces should explain why Venezuela is being invaded by a foreign government.

"There is a Cuban invasion here. The president has stated that we have thousands and thousands of Cubans here. What response is there to this? We are thought of as unpatriotic when we make a statement of what is beyond Venezuela," Ledezma said.

He added "Do they believe that they will scare us with this Cuban? Do they believe they are going to silence society?

The Mayor considered it "a confession of incapacity, of ineptitude" that we are looking for help in other countries to resolve the electrical crisis, when there are dozens of technicians in Venezuela.

"Tell this Mr. Valdes that we all know that he is an expert on police terrorism. He will be coming to electrocute Venezuelans because what lessons of efficiency in matters of electrification can this man, who has a criminal record and experience only in matters of persecution and harassment in the Cuban G2, give to us."

Ledezma also defended the students. "I believe that the students are behaving as they are because they also use a light bulb to see, they know they need water, they are also family members."

The National Guard is not resolving the problem of security

The Mayor, Antonio Ledezma, considers that President Hugo Chavez's announcement of sending the National Guard into the streets to combat insecurity in the country does not constitute a real solution to the problem.

"No one can frown upon the effort but the result of announcing this 6 times more or less, is that every time they go on announcing that the National Guard is heading out into the streets the issue of insecurity gains strength, the guard only shows up at bus stops and afterwards goodbye to the electrical power that's now switched off," the Mayor maintained.

He said that the National Police have not worked out, and they have not done so because "it was a mistake to put a partisan political label on the police, nowhere in the world are the police socialist, or social christian."

He suggested the government would be better off taking another look at the decentralization schemes for fighting insecurity that he proposed "instead of harassing the regional police."

He asked once again that the Metropolitan Police be returned to the city's control in order to "teach them how to manage a security plan" because in his view putting that police force in the hands of the national government has not meant any better pay nor better equipment for them and less security for the citizenry.

He insisted upon adopting the security plan that he developed with a group of experts headed by Fermin Marmol Leon. "The security plan prepared by a team of specialists has not been dropped."

In Ledezma's judgement it is impossible for the government to continue hiding in the closet with respect to the subject of security. "There are war parties out every weekend, the President never speaks of insecurity and there are 150 thousand deaths in the 11 years of his tenure.

In the Blogosphere

As one might guess, the Venezuelan bloggers have been all over the Valdes mission and they go even farther than does Ledezma in voicing their anxieties about Valdes's past and what it portends for Venzuela.  Among the English-language Venezuelan blogs I would especially recommend Miguel's excellent piece at the Devil's Excrement, "Hugo: How insensitive can you be? Ramiro Valdes is a murderer."  That's spot on the mark, by the way Miguel.  Juan Cristobal has an initial entry piece up at Caracas Chronicles, "Enter Ramirito," which presents an introduction to Valdes and speculates that his real mission is to assist Hugo Chavez in controlling internet and telecommunications use.  Daniel Duquenal at Venezuela News and Views has two interesting posts to read.  He pegs Valdes clearly as "one of the major assassins of an already assassin rich Fidel Castro entourage," as well as a second post which reports that Valdes has been strongly rejected in the country and that those within Chavismo would do well to correct their mistake.

Among the Spanish-language blogs I would like to point to three at this moment.  Gustavo Coronel posted an excellent entry yesterday on the very topic I am covering here which uses historical allusion to compare Mayor Antonio Ledezma to Alonso Andreas de Ledesma, an honored and respected figure of Venezuelan history who defended Caracas from the attack of the pirate Amyas Preston in 1596 and who is widely regarded as the model for the character Don Quixote in the novel by Miguel de Cervantes of the same name.  It's an absolutely wonderful piece.  As always, Martha Colmenares is right on top of the issue in multiple posts on her site.  In her first entry, she addresses the negative reactions to the arrival of Valdes, and then follows it with a closer look at Ramiro Valdes as delivered by author Pedro Corzo Eves, which is most disquieting as it paints Valdes in very dark terms.  Finally, Lazaro Gonzalez at Cuba Independiente has a couple of interesting posts worth mentioning.  In "Que hace Ramiro Valdes en Venezuela?" (What is Ramiro Valdes doing in Venezuela?), Laz relates the Valdes mission to Chavez's need to address a deteriorating political situation among his own former supporters, especially in the wake of numerous and recent resignations.  And in a second, and I think very interesting, post "I am sorry Ramiro you are out" Laz suggests that Valdes's appointment is a sign that he is being moved out of the way in the succession to Fidel.

The Valdes mission will remain a topic to keep in view.



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A Venezuelan's Prayer


Guardian Angel
Sweet companion
Take Hugo Chavez Frias far away
And do not bring him back, neither by night nor by day
So that Venezuela may have peace, water, and energy

Special thanks to Luciano Cuadra at Nación Güegüence.



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Blog Link: "If Venezuelans Do Not Act Now ..."


Marc Masferrer has an interesting little post that is nice and to the point up at his Uncommon Sense blog, long one of my favorites, as I have mentioned it in several previous entries here.

Marc has been one of the most knowledgeable bloggers anywhere on the very serious problem of Cuba's political prisoners and, in light of his valuable experience, I think his perspective is worth noting, given that he sees the culmination of Hugo Chavez's use of Cuban "advisors" in very clear terms:

. . . The evil that is emerging in Caracas is just a variant of that that has ravaged Cuba for 51 years, constantly nurtured by a monarchical regime afraid of its own people. . . .
Marc Masferrer

Yes Marc; the cowardice cannot be hidden any longer.

Check out his blog everyone.



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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Article Link: "2010 Will be a Reckoning for Hugo Chavez"


. . . Despite the stiff competition of years past, though, 2010 is already taking shape as a year of reckoning for the country, the man, and the ideology. The coming months will write a defining chapter in the history of Venezuela, Chávez and Chavismo. . . .
Frida Ghitis, World Politics Review

Since my own posts betray an obvious distaste for Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian madness, I think it might be worthwhile to view an examination of the current political crisis confronting Chavismo from a more disinterested perspective.

I encourage everyone to take a moment and read the article at World Politics Review by Frida Ghitis, "2010 Will be a Reckoning for Hugo Chavez."

The author gives an accurate overview of the current problems facing everyday Venezuelans and how they are causing them to turn away from Chavez. She makes very clear that the parliamentary elections for this year will be a turning point in the Chavez presidency, a point with which I concur completely.

And I also loved the following, from the same article:

. . . As Venezuelans debate who is to blame for their problems, the rest of the continent is quickly reaching its own conclusions. Chavismo, the ideology that for a time appeared poised to sweep across Latin America, is steadily losing adherents. . . .

Great read!


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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Need for Dispassionate Synthesis When Studying Cuban History


Cuban Author Manuel Marquez-Sterling

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
John Adams, "Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials," December 1770

I want to send out a special shout today to congratulate George Moneo at Babalú for a post he put up which addresses one of the central problems confronting all of us who live outside of Cuba with respect to grasping the larger problem of Cuban history--the facts before us are very much in question to this day.

Anyone who has honestly examined the record of Fidel Castro's rise to power and the progress of his revolution as told in modern historical scholarship will tell you that the body of work which covers the topic suffers from a lack of what historians refer to as a balanced use of primary sources, which is a test of evidence presented, in various ways, in the first person. In other words, historical evidence is most believable and reliable when it comes directly from the source, rather than relying upon opinions given from the outside.

Moneo's blog entry presents a brief overview of a recent program he attended at the University of Miami's Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies in which Cuban author and historian Manuel Marquez-Sterling, son of Carlos Marquez-Sterling, a Cuban politician of the late 50's and early Castro era (when politics ended); gave a presentation on a book he published entitled Cuba, 1952-1959: The True Story of Castro's Rise to Power. Marquez-Sterling's principal objective is to present a more complete chronology of events explaining how Castro came to power, with a particular emphasis upon attacking numerous myths generally assumed to be part of the story as it is now widely held within modern historical scholarship. Some of these myths, such as those associated with U.S. support for Batista and the "evolution" of Castro's ideological development as a Communist, are practically accepted without question among those who study the Cuban Revolution, which makes the problem of understanding Cuba and Castroite rule most difficult. Many important facts are simply not known and, as so many within the Cuban-American community will tell you, are frequently denied or excluded from conversation when they are introduced.

While I am not a Cuban-American, and therefore cannot feel that special pain I know they must endure when they attempt to tell their story, I also have faced the problem of contesting the conventional wisdom on Cuba during my own time in college, when I studied History at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. I can especially recall graduate seminars in U.S. Foreign Relations, U.S.-Latin American Relations, and Latin American History in which I attempted to present factual information that undermined the interpretations of leftist historians--I studied under out-and-out Marxists--only to see it attacked repeatedly in what I clearly recognized then, and now, by fallacious argumentation. If my source was taken from the testimony of Cuban dissidents or émigrés who fled the island after Castro, I faced either an abusive or circumstantial Ad Hominem argument, which either attacked or discounted the testimony of eyewitnesses and those who lived the tragedy in the first person for reason of their political attitudes or personal background. When I presented U.S. government documents, especially from the Department of State, they were either dismissed or discounted for representing a minority viewpoint, thus committing either the fallacy of Ignoratio Elenchi (Irrelevant Conclusion or Thesis), or if the attack was prefaced with "everyone knows" the fallacy of the Argumentum Ad Populum (appeal to the people). And I repeatedly found myself in confrontation when I contested the interpretations offered by pro-Castro historians for my refusal to bow down before the demi-gods of the discipline, the purest form of the Argumentum Ad Verecundiam, or the "argument from authority." Logic and evidence have little or no import when faced with the passion of leftist historians who betray the methodology of their discipline when they corrupt it to promote their own political agendas.

Passion is a good source of motivation to encourage the study and writing of history, but it is a very poor impetus for the assessment of historical evidence. Passion and logic will always be at odds with each other and, as John Adams understood only too well, it will never alter the state of facts and evidence, which will ever remain stubborn and resistant to the propagandizing intent of historians who abuse their readers and do harm to their discipline when they ignore and attack the facts of history.

There will come a day, and I suspect it is not as far off as many might think, when the Cuban people will throw off the yoke of Castrista oppression and the truth will come flooding out in a torrent. When it does, there will be a period of reexamination among historians, many of whom will simply run and hide from their personal embarrassment, as was the case with the fall of the Soviet Union. A dispassionate synthesis of Cuban history, so desperately needed but denied us as of now, will then integrate all the evidence needed to tell what happened in the light of truth. The story of Castro's rise to power will be part of that revisionist process and we will likely see the work of scholars such as Manuel Marquez-Sterling reintroduced into the public consciousness as the institutions who manage public information find themselves forced to account for their past errors. And the story of what took place within Cuba under Castro will be retold as well. In the same manner in which historians of the Soviet era of Russian History who once scoffed at the story Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko told of the Stalinist terror suddenly found themselves compelled to write the Black Book of Communism, we will expect to see the Black Book of Castroite Repression in Cuba. It will happen because, as Saladin told us over seven centuries ago, Blood Never Sleeps.

And we know that the spilled blood of Cuban patriots remains awake because we have the good guys to count upon to keep the truth alive. Guys like George Moneo and his fellow bloggers at Babalú and elsewhere on the web, who will never let this story go untold.

Kudos George!



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So How is Chavez Doing? A Recent Hinterlaces Poll


Translation:  Regime, You're Out! (as a baseball umpire would say)

I'm going to extend a tip of the hat to Gustavo Coronel here, who just posted the results of a very interesting public opinion poll conducted by Hinterlaces gauging Venezuelan public opinion towards Hugo Chavez, which I think makes a nice supplement to my entry of yesterday on the problem of abstentionism as it relates to the upcoming parliamentary elections in Venezuela later this year. You can give this a quick look and take hope.

The basic results: 77% of Venezuelans blame Hugo Chavez and his team for the bad situation in which the country now finds itself; 62% do not trust Hugo Chavez; and perhaps most importantly, 60% of Venezuelans say they will vote for opposition candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

It looks like Daniel Duquenal's argument that "the election is for the opposition to lose" holds water when compared against the hard numbers of this recent poll.

¡Buen Hecho Gustavo!



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Monday, February 1, 2010

The Political Folly of Electoral Abstentionism in Chavez's Venezuela


Venezuelan Playwright, Author, and Journalist Ibsen Martinez

I would like to take a first look within this blog at the upcoming 2010 parliamentary elections in Venezuela, which likely will take place in September of this year, though scheduling remains in the hands of the regime. Before I get into the subject of this first post, in which I will introduce the perspective of a highly-qualified Venezuelan observer on an important trend to track within the process; namely, that of "abstentionism," I want to draw everyone's attention to some very fine background work that already has been prepared for an easy review by anyone wishing to acquaint themselves with the situation.

Venezuelan blogger Daniel Duquenal has done an excellent job of putting together a series of posts, all but one in English as I view them today, which introduce and explain the elections in significant detail and from a variety of perspectives. Readers will be able to learn the ins and outs of Venezuelan electoral law in both theory and practice--yes, they differ markedly and in the real world often work to the advantage of the regime--as well as learning both the recent and long-term historical context within which the elections will take place. Daniel is concerned with combatting problems of voter apathy, electoral fraud, and more and he is hoping, read "pleading," that the Venezuelan opposition will present a unified front to the regime, something that is particularly important given the new electoral law which denies minority parties representation unless they receive at least 25% of the vote. And there are still other problems to confront as well; especially gerrymandering of districts. You can see a basic overview of Daniel's work on the 2010 elections in Venezuela here. I recommend it highly.

As a first topic for review of the upcoming vote in Venezuela I would like to introduce the phenomenon of Electoral Abstentionism here, which has played a more prominent part in the politics of Chavez's rule over the past decade than many would appreciate. Chavez has, quite simply, not only benefited from the willful apathy of many in the Venezuelan electorate who oppose the direction of his administration, he has in fact counted upon it as a given advantage enabling him to rule almost by decree. But this recent trend in Venezuelan politics appears to be changing, as the article I am presenting today will show.

Ibsen Martinez is an award-winning newspaper columnist, journalist, and playwright from Caracas. He has been with the staff at the Caracas newspaper El Nacional, once considered close to Chavez but which has clearly stood in opposition to him since at least 2000, for over fourteen years. He also has been published internationally in papers such as Miami's El Nuevo Herald, and both Letras Libres and El Pais in Madrid.

The following editorial was published yesterday in the Bogota, Colombia newspaper El Espectador. Martinez takes a good look in this particular essay at the phenomenon of abstentionism in recent Venezuelan political life and gives his reasons why he believes it will no longer be a boon to Chavez this year or in the future. Since almost all knowledgeable observers of Venezuelan politics under Chavez seem to view abstentionists--the so-called ni-nis--as an important part of the political milieu of Venezuela, Martinez's perspective may be worth keeping in mind.

"The Three Strikes"
By Ibsen Martinez
The Best Poll is the Election

After a Chavista decade, for Venezuelans of any political banner it is simply exhausting to contemplate the prospect of a new electoral struggle. Nevertheless, today there is hardly anyone in the entire country who wants to avert the annoyance of another contentious campaign with more fervor than Hugo Chavez himself.

The reason why is that everything indicates that the parliamentary elections in September of this year may mean that his desire for reelection in the 2012 presidential election will appear to be indefinitely put on hold.

Even though some foreign media-especially European-still uphold the idea of Chavez's electoral invincibility, the fact is that, strictly speaking, since December 2006 Chavez has not received an electoral landslide of the kind to which he had become accustomed since 1998, when he won the presidency of Venezuela for the first time. Indeed, Chavez won by a landslide in the referendum convened in 1999 to validate the Constitution arising from the Constituent Assembly that year and, later, in the same convincing fashion, in the controversial recall referendum of 2004 called by the opposition.

This reporter judges that the accusation of electronic vote fraud which the political opposition could not validate then--neither before their fellow Venezuelans nor to the international community--was not the effective cause of that triumph.

Rather, in that "victory" the conventional vices of Latin American populist opportunism were acted out within an electoral trance. Most particularly, the extortion of the vote of the state bureaucracy in a country where the Petro-State employs 70% of the economically active population worked. There was, moreover, a grotesque element that conditionally determined the outcome in favor of Chavez, the "Tascon list," so named after the surname of the Chavista deputy who made it famous. It was, simply, a list of millions of citizens who, in 2003, signed the petition for a recall referendum.

Violating the secrecy of the vote, the Venezuelan electoral college, herein named the National Electoral Council, unconstitutionally ceded to the pro-government deputy Luis Tascon the list of all opposition voters. The list already had been maliciously challenged by the college for alleged errors of form, forcing the opposition to collect signatures again.

This list, which still circulates freely today in compact discs obtainable from street vendors, has served over these years, neither more nor less, as a detailed register of political opponents and a means of terror. It is consulted by the government before awarding contracts, making appointments in public administration, granting passports and so on. As a result, from those years onward, a virtual political apartheid has prevailed in Venezuela that has not passed without having electoral consequences. The most important and certainly the most tragic for the opposition, was the expensive toll that militant abstentionism reached on the eve of the parliamentary elections of 2005.

Yesterday's Abstentionists Retarget their Aim

In that year the political leadership of the opposition, collegially composed of what remained of the old bipartisanship and by numerous groups of so-called civil society, instead of turning out its constituency, chose to get behind the general feeling of frustration and despair of the mass of voters opposed to Chavez.

The latter, still imbued with the so-called "anti-politics" that made possible Chavez's coming to power, was convinced that the electoral college was capable of twisting any outcome in favor of the Bolivarian leader.

People asked contemptuously: "Why vote?," and the political class could neither say nor do anything worthwhile faced with the question. The parties, consciously persuaded for the worse in knowing themselves despised from the beginning by the average voter, decided to throw away all reason and flatter the common opponent.

The strange idea of boycotting the parliamentary elections then emerged, with the specious argument that a militant abstentionism would "delegitimize" the regime and hasten its fall.

The result of such nonsense has been what Chavez has counted upon for four years with an assembly joyously at the service of all his designs. In contrast, the radical abstentionism of the opposition has now lost all its belligerence. Those who were the leading spokesmen of abstentionism in 2005, today are working the hardest to reverse the effects of this monumental miscalculation.

Thus there is now a consensus, not only among the opposing political leadership, grouped together in a body called the "Democratic Committee," but among the masses adverse to Chavez, who are committed, if not to win, to at least regain a presence in the Assembly as a way of making the already serious and undeniable political crisis that lives inside Chavismo more profound. A crisis which may well hinder the aspirations of Chavez to seek re-election in 2012.

Since 2007, Chavez's Votes Have Not Grown, Only Fallen

Consider: In December 2006, Chavez won the presidential elections with seven million three hundred thousand votes, 62.8% of the ballots cast. Just one year later, in December 2007, the referendum with which Chavez sought approval for a series of reforms to the "world's most perfect constitution," lost by a narrow margin, with an abstention rate which exceeded 37%. Most significant was that, in just 12 months, Chavez "lost" almost three million votes. Two million seven hundred and seventy-nine thousand, to be exact.

"They like the guy," was the unanimous opinion of the analysts, "but not the socialism he proposes." Since that date, the opposition has come in with greater numbers in all confrontations, despite the enticement to mischief of the electoral college. The years in which Chavez's electoral dominance expressed itself monotonously in a ratio of from 60 to 40 in favor of the Supreme Leader have ended, and now all the polls speak of a clear opposition majority in voter intent. This predominance clearly nourishes disenchantment in Chavez's own electoral universe: the poor.

Thus it is that today, with the 100% devaluation of the Bolivar, the rationing of water and electrical energy as the product of waste, union agitation in the iron and steel sector, rampant crime, a silent war between factions of the "Boli-Bourgeoisie" that expresses itself in the bankruptcies of many banks and, last but not least, the rupture of trade relations with Colombia all worsen the rejection of Chavez by over 80% of Venezuelans of voting age, voices usually very laconic and even-tempered all foreshadowing that the lists of the opposition will be able to wrest control of the Assembly from Chavez in September.

For the first time the "Chavez aircraft carrier" does not look capable of carrying the parliamentary candidacies of his always unknown candidates on his shoulders.

According to the rules of baseball, the Venezuelan national pastime, a batter has only three chances to try to hit the ball out of the diamond. Each time he fails, the umpire calls a strike. When three strikes are called, we say the batter has been put "out" and must leave the game.

In the breaks between one inning and another in the contests, the tens of thousands of attendees at the final games of the Venezuelan baseball championship chanted every night at the ballpark in Caracas, as the umpire would shout "out" to a batter: "One, two, three: Chavez, you're out!"

The three strikes are devaluation, rationing, and insecurity. Three non-ideological reasons to leave the Bolivar reborn without parliamentary representation.

Things are changing for Chavez in Venezuela. The signs are everywhere.



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