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Mexikanischer Botschafter wurde in Venezuela entführt

Entführungen sind im "revolutionären, bolivarischen Venezuela" das alltägliches Brot. Da Venezuela kein Rechtsstaat ist, ist es ein Paradies für Entführer. Manchmal sind die Verbrecher aber so dumm, dass sie einen Botschafter entführen...nicht aus politischen Gründen, natürlich...pecunia non olet. Und das ist zu viel, selbst für die Chávez-Regierung.

Der Sieg der Gerechtigkeit: dieses Gemälde hat mit Venezuela nichts, aber auch nichts zu tun

Heute haben Entführer u.a. den Botschafter Mexikos und seine Frau entführt. Weil es sich aber um den Botschafter handelte, haben die Polizeiagenten der Chávezregierung agiert und den Diplomat samt Gattin befreit. Sie tun das am liebsten, wenn es sich um Diplomaten oder um berühmte Baseballspieler handelt, nicht um normale Bürger.

Ps. Und jetzt lesen wir, dass andere Entführer die Kinder und der Fahrer eines Unternehmers gerade jetzt entführt haben.

The agricultural sinkhole of Venezuela: my banker may call me tomorrow before he gets expropriated

Let's face it, Chavez agricultural policy has failed.  So he finds nothing better but to accuse the main three private banks of Venezuela of not financing the agricultural sector and threatens to nationalize the three of them.  The news went around fast, in Spain where BBVA headquarters are, and elsewhere, such as a misleading BBC snippet that makes the casual reader think that Chavez policies are working.

Handshake before the check?
Reality is complicated.  As a businessman making his livelihood in the agricultural sector I have indeed benefited from the credit policy of Venezuela which demands that 24% of bank loans go to finance agricultural activities.  This is great for me and my colleagues because the interest rate is fixed at 13%, 2 to 5 points below the other markers.  With an official inflation at around 30% and a real one maybe getting close to 40, this means that by the time we have paid our loan, in real money we may have made as much as 10% instead of paying interest.  As a matter of fact, even agricultural business that do not need to borrow to grow still borrow, if anything to buy dollars outside of Venezuela, or to enjoy an easy bonus because you could lend that money at a higher rate than you borrowed it.

There is another perverse effect: banks court us.  That is, since agricultural activities are such a high risk activity in Venezuela, anyone that is known to pay back his loan, even late, even with trouble, is an AAA of sorts in the informal credit rating of the Venezuelan banking system.  Your banker will call you to ask you whether you need money.  You can demand conditions.  And when the loan is approved the banker comes to your office with all the paper work and the public notary to sign.

Approval is easy: take your banker to an outing on your farms and show him your property titles.  That is enough, you do not need even to do complicated financial statements (your banker knows how much money you make) or to draw proposals and what not: you have enough guarantees as far as the banker is concerned, considering the conditions of the country.

But this system only benefits well established agricultural farms and agribusiness concerns.  They cannot make much money these days because of the rigid policy of price control of the regime.  But thanks to the indirect earnings that the mandatory loans offer us, an earning that does not appear in any accounting book because it is courtesy of inflation and thus we pay no tax on that, we can develop, invest, grow.  I can assure you that at least 50% of any new investment in the agribusiness sector you may observe comes from these loans that the banks are forced to make.  In my own business all growth that may come for us is due to banks wanting us to borrow from them.

And the ultimate perversion is that if you are in an agricultural sector threatened with expropriation by the regime, then you have more reasons to borrow: the day you are expropriated the debt goes to Chavez whereas whatever you spent on you remains with you.

Of course banks are very reluctant to make loans to small farmers, in particular those that Chavez is allegedly creating with all the intensive land expropriation to allegedly create small farms with landless peasants.  The problem with Chavez ideological hare-brained schemes is that those who receive the land do not get any property title and thus have no asset to offer banks.  And no real prospect for success anyway as the government merely hands out money and land but provides no services, no consulting, nothing worthy or continuous over time.  After all we just learned this week that the per capita agricultural product went down 9% since 1998 in spite of all the money and laws and programs that Chavez has thrown at the sector.  Banks are not picky as you already read, but at least they require either an asset or a guarantee from the regime that it will put up if the worst comes.  A Chavez running out of money is certainly not going to oblige, even if he were inclined to do so.

But Chavez also knows what is going on with these credits, who really benefits from them.  So he gets furious and decides to punish the victim, that is the banks who make nothing out of these loans, by threatening to expropriate them  through what is nothing more than a crass extortion.  He even suggested that the banks should deposit their 24% money in a state fund that will decide who gets the loans!  You can kiss goodbye that money which is simply going to become grant distribution and vote buying in the country side at the bank expense, and the agricultural production expense which needs a large part of these loans for day to day routine as the investments must be done in full well before the crops are sold.  If the banks go bankrupt from losing 24% of their capital, who cares!? After reelection Chavez will nationalize them once and for all.

And yet there is a funny paradox: SUDEBAN, the state organization supposed to enforce bank regulations emitted a communique on January 23, a mere week ago, to the effect that the banks were fulfilling agricultural loans at 91.67%.  I am not saying it, it is reported in the state news agency!  In fact SUDEBAN self congratulates for the success!

So, who is a liar?  Chavez or Sudeban?  The more to believe that today's whole show was an excuse to take away a large chunk of private money in the banks to finance Chavez reelection.  And a true expropriation without compensation it will be, a plain highway robbery, "robar" as Maria Corina Machado so aptly put to Chavez on Janaury 13.  Well, he'll show her.

PS: welcome Powerline readers!


Spiegel zeigt's: Schönheitswahn in Venezuela. Darum haben wir, was wir haben: Chávez. Wenn so viele Venezolanerer und Venezolanerinnen so sehr auf Äusseres aufpassen, ohne zu erkennen, was wirklich wichtig ist und was langfristig bleiben wird, ist das Land leichte Beute für Schurken an der Macht.

Es ist schon peinlich, aber wahr, was da gezeigt wird. Schön wäre's, wenn unsere Leute stattdessen ein bisschen mehr und besser lesen bzw nachdenken würden.

The dust settles over the primary campaign perturbations

Two recent events have thrown two powerful wrenches into the carefully orchestrated Unidad primary where all was supposed to go smoothly toward a united candidate, at the price of, lets's say it, a rather dull campaign.  And today it is nice to see that the wrenches will not have wrecked the opposition united resolve as chavismo keeps hoping; and maybe made it even stronger.

The first wrench was the head to head of Maria Corina Machado and Chavez on January 13.  Besides the folklore around such an event the fact of the matter is that MCM became a credible candidate and one with a real political future.  Suddenly the perspective that she could do better than a 4th place and deny an outright majority to the winner became clear to all and forced the other guys to review their strategies.

The one more directly affected was Leopoldo Lopez whose campaign was nixed from the start by the ambiguity of the regime in making his run legal.  It does not matter that many did not think this concern worthy of worry, the fact of the matter is that the hoi polloi has grown so weary of chavismo treachery and its ability to get away with murder that any weakness in any candidate is over-amplified.  LL who at some point was a challenger for second place and maybe for first had become now clearly someone who was not going to win (at least not by February 12, those deadlines, you know).  So LL did the only sensible thing: withdraw rather than be counted and make things worse for him.

Withdrawing does not hurt people who were never perceived as a front challenger.  But withdrawing when you almost led at some point and when you can become an unexpected 4th can kill your political career.  So LL could not just withdraw from the race, he had to line up behind someone.  And he did it rather well by going over to Henrique Capriles Radonski, almost making it a given for February 12 (more on that at the end of the post).

This HCR/LL tandem was also the second wrench thrown at the Unidad campaign.  Many people were upset, in the Pablo Perez camp in particular, more even than among LL own party, Voluntad Popular.  For notice I may point out an amazingly bitter article of Rafael Poleo in Zeta (not on line) going as far as saying that obscure interests (that he does not name, of course) conspired all along for that HCR/LL show so as to wreck Unidad chances and ease an eventual victory of Chavez.  Jose Vicente Rangel would be the real artifice of that conspiracy!  Even if we discard outright half of that piece it would still be damming for LL.  And yet even if I deduct the names of  the "somber" economic interests to be the despicable Cisneros group of Venevision who made a pact with Chavez shortly after the Recall Election it is still not a point.  Not only times have changed since 1998, and 2002 and 2004, but all political campaigns from any side have always some "dark interests" giving money.  Let's start discussing the folks financing PP, just to name one.

But if Poleo is an out of touch extreme (it is starting to show that he has already spent too much time outside of Venezuela) there are also elegiac articles making LL decision the best thing since sliced bread.  Let's get away from these crazies and acknowledge that LL decision was also the one of a statesman, the one of a guy seeing further than his political interests and favoring the interests of the state: the opposition needs a strong winner out of its primaries.  More important than whatever votes LL brings to HCR the  LL decision created a necessary debate before the vote so all has chance to be discussed and whoever wins in February will have less grudges to heal since all will have had their say.  That is, the opposition will decide whether it is best to seduce chavismo (PP and HCR basic tenet) or promise blood sweat and tears (MCM, Arria and PM).  That each option is untenable is irrelevant, what we are deciding is what type of campaign we should do.  Starting October 8 a new reality will force how to rule.

LL was straddling a little bit both sides, hoping to benefit from both point of views and that favored him at first, attracting the interest of many such as yours truly.  But LL could not solidify that.  Either the "inhabilitacion", either a poor choice of campaign strategies, either a feisty MCM, it does not matter but his logic approach run aground of a country who only understands polarized politics; and thus it is simply best to settle the issue inside the opposition, bland versus hard against Chavez, tossing away the reasonable option.

That is why after one week of reflection I think that LL decision was even better than expected even though at its origin such lofty goals may not have been the motivation for such decisions.  Now we have a simplified situation: there are two brands of blandness towards Chavez, through PP and HCR; though PP has a tougher feel to him which may or may not be compensated in HCR by his new sidekick.  And we have MCM for the tough love with Arria as her caution to make her tough love speech more credible.  The hard core "take no prisoner" fringe of the opposition will have a catharsis through Arria and then all will rally around HCR, the most likely to win.


As a bonus, numbers.  Retaking an earlier post where I was telling you that on paper HCR had to win, we can revisit here the raw numbers.

Of 100 voters we can be assured that mid January the sharing was as follow:

25 HCR
20 PP
15 LL
5 Arria
30 floating

Now, after these two wrenches, half LL goes to HCR and part of the floating drifts to MCM with 25% of LL (people like me for example who see virtues in HCR but are not ready to vote for him).  Also, the sudden polarization between PP and HCR likely makes some floating drift to PP, buying into the "right wing conspiracy" of HCR and LL.  Today we may be like this:

35 HCR
22 PP
13 MCM
6 Arria
24 floating

In this conservative scenario for HCR (I am sure he is getting better numbers but I am playing Devils' advocate here)  HCR margin is now too big to be overcome by February 12 by either PP or MCM.  Even if PP gets half of the floating population he still gets 34 only.

My bet at this point is 45-50% HCR, 25% PP, 15% MCM, 8% Arria and 2% Medina (as a protest vote of sorts).  The 5% in question for HCR going to PP or MCM.  And if any PP supporter complains about my guesses let me remind them that PP left the field to HCR alone for at least two months while UNT sorted its internal mess and courted AD and COPEI.  Time is of the essence in politics and on this regard both HCR and LL have a much better timing than the other guys.  By far....

Saturday cartoons

For a lighter Saturday, have three cartoons of Tal Cual's Weil, back from a long holiday.  Also for me a good way to make a quick post as I am way too busy in Caracas these days....
On the opposition primary and its candidates.

An imaginary PSUV primary campaign debate.  Chavez is alone, the moderator is chavista and yet Chavez decides to skip the question.  No kidding, I am sure that this has crossed Chavez mind, how to debate himself....

Why Chavez hates so much the concept of opposition primary debates: during a cadena of B.S. his supporters prefer to discuss the opposition candidates merits and demerits.

Note that Weil has put back Chavez with a boot head since he claims he is cured and the air grows again.

And now for a candidate cartoon, Arria as a ball wrecker

"Let me explain to you the first thing we need to do with an illegitimate government"

Venezuelan surnames and the founder's effect

I generated a little map showing the three most common surnames in every Venezuelan state. There are better  methods to discover population movements based on surnames and yet even this distribution can tell us a little bit about our history.

The top surnames in Táchira and Mérida on the West - the region of the gochos - are a unique pattern in Venezuela: they both have Ramírez and Contreras among the top 3. Trujillo - the Northern most part of the Gocho area has Briceño as most popular surname and Montilla, the third one, is among the top 3 only there.

Falcón has Medina as third most common surname. Finally: Nueva Esparta and Sucre have among the top the surname Salazar.  I am sure if we go back to the XIX century and perhaps earlier we will see some reasons for this distribution.

Vote for Leopoldo, pray for Maria Corina, but bet on Henrique

Wilson at 29
Even though this headline does not apply anymore, I was not going to let it go to waste, having been planning a post with that title for a few days.  The line comes from noted US historian Samuel Eliot Morison who recalled that the first time he voted was for the election of 1912 between Taft, T. Roosevelt as a dissident and Wilson for the Democrats.  Young and inexperienced he asked for advice and one of his friends told him that line that for some strange reason always stayed with me for its nearly exquisite understanding of politics: "Vote for Roosevelt, pray for Taft, but bet on Wilson." (1)

Until Monday night this had been pretty much my feeling as to what the outcome of February 2012 should be, or at least how should I think about it.  Alas, Leopoldo and Henrique tied the knot yesterday and I have not been able to pull out an adequate historical quote.

The thing is even as I was tweeting live the debate of Monday night I was also getting ready to write that post that will never be written now (to the relief of many I presume).  In the debate for me it was clear again that Lopez and Machado were the superior candidates to Perez and Capriles.  Not that Perez or Capriles are bad and whichever of them wins I will become a rabid supporter of their cause for next October, but in a primary you do indeed have the privilege to vote for who better represents a combination of what you think is needed , who represents your ideas best, etc...  and you can vote for that person without any consequences even if you know that s/he may come in dead last at 1% of the votes cast.  Voting for the apparent winner just to ease your low self esteem has never been my cup of tea, and even a counter argument if any for me as some pro Capriles folks are advancing (you all know who you are).

Thus I decided long ago that I would pick my choice as late as February 11, if needed.  In other words I was going to proceed by elimination rather than by an active choice.  As such until Leopoldo announced his reversal I had eliminated already Medina, Perez and Capriles.  And now it remains for me to decide between Machado and Arria who I will vote for on February 12, knowing full well that unless Capriles is found in some bed having sex with a 5 years old it is nearly impossible for him to lose the primary election.  Which will not happen as Capriles may be many things but a pervert he is not nor he needs to be (though the official dirty campaign has already started this early so you can imagine what will come next;  and at tax payer expense on the national radio network of Venezuela, as this RNV example will illustrate).

Thus the title of my projected post, since Leopoldo was the best combination of what I wanted for Venezuela, energy to win, smarts, etc, etc...  And yet Maria Corina Machado hints so badly at what we all secretly want, a classy revenge with a real new way to do things in the country, while the inevitability of Capriles looming for whatever reasons those may be closed the rewrite of the Morison line.

I discarded Medina first because even though I grew to like him during the campaign, as a real example on how people can change for better, even much better I would add, he still does not have all what it takes, no team, and too disperse a mind when intense focusing is essential as of October 8.

Perez of Zulia I was OK early, but during the campaign I started to dislike him and came to see him as the puppet of some weird Maracaibo mafia allied with the remnants of the AD/Copei mafia.  I am surely wrong about the mafia part but I am not sure that someone who gets elected such such compromises may have the ability, or even be allowed to make all the tough decisions come October 8.  Amen of a lousy campaign so far, always a sure sign that you may not be able to run the complexities of a country in crisis (there is a reason while the US vets its candidates through grueling campaigns, as the best way to asses the ability of the guy to perform under heavy stress).  Thus, even if Tal Cual (and Teodoro) favored him from the start, it is not enough for me to follow just as it is not enough for Lopez to endorse Capriles for me to abide.

Which brings me to Capriles.  For all of his success and hard work (I am a fan of him for many reasons, already giving him an assured reelection in Miranda in 2010 for his gumption in water works) I do not see him as the guy best able to face the difficult situation that awaits us next year.  I have been complaining recently that Capriles's Primero Justicia is becoming a mere bad copy of old COPEI, but the Capriles campaign makes me afraid that he is a bad copy of the old Carlos Andres Perez campaign of 1988.  Then CAP promised to improve on Lusinchi work and instead started a plan of economic liberalization that led us to El Caracazo.  CAP was right in what had to be done but he did not campaign on it and today we are still paying the consequences for that miscalculation of his campaign.

Through the campaign I have never seen a clear hint from Capriles that he truly measures the task ahead, and that he comprehends fully the situation the country is in.  I mean, surely he has an idea, surely some folks at PJ must know, but I have not seen that hint that would reassure me that he fathoms the abyss.  In fact the whole campaign of Capriles can be summarized as some form of chavismo light, a "I will be efficient" theme and that the "best" of populism will be preserved, that all that matters is that me and my guys are in charge.  Well, it is not, and even if Arria or Medina or Machado may exaggerate on occasion they are at least showing me that they truly understand what is at stake, what awaits them.  Capriles does not, and his calm, composed, intentionally boring presentations at debates, with a repetitive message targeted to the chavismo dissatisfied with little intellectual demands, with allies that give him a chavismo light quality label turn me off completely; besides worrying me sick that he will fail, and that electing him may turn  out to make things worse in the long term (Ortega's return in Nicaragua, anyone?).  October 7 is not about fixing potholes even if that is the only thing that 90% of the country wants to hear.

I am not asking him for a blood and tears speech, I know he needs to be elected, but at least he should make it clearer that some sacrifices will have to be made otherwise the Caracazo that awaits him will make the previous one a child's game.

So I am left to decide between voting for Maria Corina or Diego Arria.  Both today came forcefully out in stating that they remain in the race until the end and, I presume, getting a not insignificant share of Leopoldo's vote, and who knows, maybe of Perez vote now that it seems he will not win.  The good thing about Leopoldo endorsement of Capriles is that now it is much easier for some of us to vote our conscience.  And this blogger will.


1) I should not assume that everyone is a history buff like me.

That line meant at the time that Teddy Roosevelt was immensely popular yet controversial for breaking the GOP ranks, while Taft represented the safe and secure business establishment.  Thus the rather weak democrats had an opportunity to benefit from that GOP division, which they did ushering in 8 years of Wilson administration.

That is why this line is so good because it reflected so concisely the dilemma of the majority republican of the time absolutely unable to make up their mind between a political star (and successful ex-president but always perceived as reckless) and and a dull but safe administrator.  They knew full well that it opened the door to an untested intellectual (never a plus in US politics) who indeed became president (and was for that matter the last intellectual to hold the presidency).

Chávez' youngest daughter

You can see here a picture of Rosinés showing off her dollars. She is the youngest daughter of our caudillo, Hugo Chávez. In Venezuela there is a strict currency control that benefits the richest, those with connections. The currency is terribly overvalued and the best-connected earn a fortune thanks to the black market.

Rosainés' mother and former wife of our military strongman said the girl had made an error not by taking the picture but only by uploading it "in a medium where there are ignorant people who do not respect others".

That's the Revolución Bonita a few gullible in the North were so excited about. You can follow the new Rosinés fever in Twitter by looking for #Rosinesing

In the Oil-Boom Revolution, some get bacon and some get preferential dollars and organized meetings with Justin Bieber


Vicente Emilio Sojo was a Venezuelan composer. Here you have a little piece called Cántico.

Grumpy men

I was reading an excellent post by Juan Cristóbal about Venezuela's useless elite. And I very much agree with what he said there: Venezuela's better-educated are not aware most of the subsidies are benefiting them the most - by far. And yet I thought again: but aren't we trying to go against the wind while oil prices keep going up 15-20% a year? Is it just the elite?

Don't we come up as technocrats who just think of numbers, of abstract concepts about sustainable development and so many other unpalatable or simply inedible things while others are enjoying the oil boom in Venezuela?

I read a study published yesterday in El Universal by Datos. I am not so sure about how reliable Datos as opinion pollster ix but the figures seem plausible to me. They say about 46% consider themselves pro-Chávez, 31% pro-oppo and 23% neutral. Among those "neutral" just a tiny majority tend towards the opposition, but just a bit. They also say that even if people feel the shortages of basic products like milk, sugar, maize flower and others and they are worried because of insecurity and unemployment, half the Venezuelans have a positive attitude towards the future.

How come? They say: "there are more Venezuelans with domestic appliances, more food, more income". 

Rewind. Domestic appliances: as I wrote 8 months, this is going to have a big impact in Venezuela: the government is selling for a fraction of the price, sometimes just giving away, household appliances galore it has bought with the Chinese Fund, a fund that means Venezuela is selling China oil at an advantageous price for China for years and years to come. Miguel has written more on the Chinese fund here. As our gringo friend Steven says, the prices seem to be fairer than what many of us expected. And yet: the documents show how hungry for dolllars the Chávez government is. Chávez's supporters will say: of course, all to invest in social programmes. Bullocks. We got a loan for over 4 billion dollars last year to buy yet more Russian weapons and Venezuela is already the main importer of weapons in Latin America, number 8 on Earth.

José Rodríguez and María González in El Tocuyo or Los Guayos have some chance to get now a Haier washing machine at a tiny fraction of the price they would have to pay at a normal "capitalist" shop (never mind Haier is a capitalist company). They have some chance of getting a Haier refrigerator. They may get some US rice and Nicaraguan black beans and New Zealand or Lithuanian milk at Mercal.

About 60-70% of consumption is subsidized. 3.9 million people are state employees. 45% of households get some kind of "Misiones", most importantly food.

We used to export a little bit of agricultural products. Now we import even black beans from Nicaragua and virtually all the rest. Your farmer doesn't have a job as a farmer, but he can sell Chinese gadgets and Peruvian panties on the streets and perhaps his cousin works for the council and his children get black beans from Nicaragua, so: what's the problem?

Don't tell them they could have much better schools than they have now if they can't even imagine how those schools may look like. Don't tell them about really decent hospitals or libraries. What reference they have? When did they get such things? As for violent crime: incredibly, even if the murder rate has tripled, most poor - the most affected by crime - don't feel that's the government's responsibility.

Who has told them about making Venezuela a developed nation? Nobody.

Very few Venezuelans think about how oil prices will be next year. They are probably right for next year, and perhaps for the one after that. And those who do just count on oil prices remaining at the same level for years and years to come. Even the best informed think anything will just drive oil prices higher and higher for many decades to come. And how many of us will be alive in 2070? And who has  done the maths about how many persons will be living in Venezuela in 2015 and how many barrels of oil we will not be consuming ourselves but exporting?

So: Juan and I will be seen as callous, grumpy men for a long time.

But Venezuelans will face other realities sooner than they think. After the elections.

¿Eres venezolano y vives en el extranjero?

Entonces revisa de vez en cuando la siguiente página si quieres enterarte de dónde serán las elecciones primarias más cerca de ti.

The debate that ended in a real surprise

At the debate tonight what mattered the most was the leaving line of Leopoldo Lopez as to a forthcoming joint announcement with Capriles next day.  In fact, after watching it live, really, Miguel and I did hang out for a while and all candidates did, except Leopoldo who was nowhere to be found, with few of his supporters around except for his mother that made a point to go and give Capriles a hug (well, we thought it was Leopoldo's mother anyway).  There is no need to treat this as some form of running away, but simply something big is planned tomorrow and the less people had access to LL and his close circle, the less possibility of a leak as to the details.

It would be unbecoming, so to speak, to speculate widely as to the announcement tomorrow but tonight we can certainly piece up a few things.  Readers of this blog should not be too surprised after all: the Maria Corina Machado bout with Chavez 10 days ago has changed the dynamics of the campaign (here and here).  Not that Henrique Capriles Radonski  is threatened decisively but now positions 2, 3 and 4 are up for grabs and wide open for Pablo Perez, LL and MCM, without discounting that after tonight's performance HCR is not going to go up in polls and could well be in trouble by February 12.  Let's face it, if Capriles were so sure of winning, why would he accept a pact with Leopoldo at this late in the game?

So, what gives?

LL has been done in by the non committal performance of the judicial system that let's in place a possible impeachment where he to win.  People like me know full well that chavismo will not dare to refuse a victorious LL to take office, but the hoi polloi does not understand those subtleties and actually thing that Chavez would get away with what would be a coup d'etat unacceptable for his colleagues.  Simply put, for all his best effort, his dynamic campaign, LL had to spend a debilitating precious time to convince people of that without really succeeding.

But LL has long term plans.  In fact of the 6 candidates they are only three that have the potential to become statesmen some day, LL, MCM and Arria.  But for LL anything short of a 2nd place or excellent third place is not acceptable for his future career.  And MCM stunt makes that there is no poll able to measure such a shifting landscape in the next two weeks before February 12.  A decision of sorts had to be made so as not to risk and undeserved embarrassment.

HCR had problems of his own.  He might be leading but it seems that this lead has stopped growing long ago (maybe shrinking some as no one is publishing any poll).  In fact debates et al, have shown his limitations even though his qualities were still apparent.  Probably his own campaign staff agrees with me that MCM may take more votes from his base than he could care to admit.  And finally, the Unidad having refused to allow for a second round balloting, the perspective of winning with as little as a 35% of the vote does not yield a strong candidate to counter Chavez.

An alliance between the 25% certain of HCR and the 10% certain of LL gives a 35% certain that is easier to transform into a convincing 51% on February 12.  Simple mathematics, you see....

But it is also more than mere mathematics: worrying about a mandate election is the sure sign of a maturing opposition that starts to understand truly the nature of the challenge next year if it wins.  And there is also the possibility to try the all new front.  See, LL and HCR appeared in politics AFTER Chavez and 4th republic charges cannot be lobbed at them.  The more so with a PODEMOS and PPT caution.  Whereas PP is burdened with the Maracaibo mafia, and the AD one and the COPEI one......  In fact, as one of my contacts suggested, there may have been also into consideration that paying the departure of Chavez with the return of AD and COPEI was not acceptable.....

I will stop here because anything else without knowledge of the details of the agreement would start now to be the domain of astrologers.  More tomorrow.

PS: as I finish this I see Miguel's post on this evening.  I agree with all what he said except that I would have put LL on top with a very close second for MCM.  For more details on my differences with Miguel you can read my Twitter timeline of tonight.  And as Miguel does, I apologize that we were not readier to face technology challenges, trusting Globovision and the UNIMET to supply better access to technology.

Heute abend: die letzte Debatte

Heute abend, um 20:00 venezolanischer Zeit, wird die letzte Debatte der Vorwahl für die Opposition stattfinden. Die sechs Vorkandidaten der alternativen Parteien werden in Globovisión auftreten und wieder diskutieren bzw plaudern. Was erwarte ich? Nichts überraschendes. Die Aktion werden wir erst nach dem 12.2.2012 finden: dann wird der Kandidat bzw die Kandidatin der alternativen Parteien gewählt sein. Dann wird eine bestimmte Person gegen den Militärcaudillo auftreten. Was empfehle ich? Er oder sie muss dann Chávez dazu zwingen, eine Reihe von Debatten zu akzeptieren oder erkennen, dass er nicht in der Lage ist, öffentlich mit jemandem zu diskutieren, ohne die Kontrolle zu verlieren. Es ist sicher, dass Chávez ein offenes Gespräch unter allen Umständen vermeiden wird. Der Kandidat der alternativen Parteien muss aber darauf bestehen und zwar immer wieder und bis zum Tag vor der Wahl.

Die erzkonservative spanische Zeitung sagt nun, Chávez habe angeblich weniger als ein Jahr zu leben, wenn er sich bald nicht einer strengen Behandlung für seinen Prostatakrebs unterzieht, was er seit langem nicht mehr tun würde. Was halte ich davon? Ich bin eher skeptisch...und es ist sowieso egal: Venezuela sitzt auf mehreren Zeitbomben und die hangen nicht mehr vom Leben oder Tod eines einzigen Menschen. Alle Venezolaner guten Willens müssen zusammen Lösungen finden und offene Debatten - nicht parallele Monologen fordern und fördern.

Und da liegt's: Debatten, was Venezolaner bis heute nicht wirklich kennen.

A 23 de Enero with a new breeze

Today we commemorate January 23 1958 date we threw out or one before last dictator.  Yes, I consider now Chavez a dictator even if he has been elected at some point So the opposition Unidad decided to use the date to offer the governmental program for the next elected president of the opposition.  Assuming we will win....  Still, it was a nice ceremony that I attended courtesy of my contacts with X.  I did a live twittering of the whole thing with some picture (not too good, my zoom stopped working for some mystery reason not solved yet).  Nice, simple ceremony with the 6 candidates on state listening the presentation and not declaring anything.

Yet, there was a small problem we heard later: Arria refused to sign, which probably will do him in, with the "Unidad" spirit prevalent these days for better or for worse.  He may have a point, that promising stuff is almost idiotic since we have no idea in which state the new president will receive the country.  We all know that, but we better keep silent about it.  Then again, if polls are not good, a "por ahora" moment is desperately sought.

Chavistas of course dismissed the whole thing, without even reading it since it came up on line sometime after the ceremony.  But then again, they should say so since they have no program but their master's voice.....

Debate tonight

Tonight we have what might be the last debate before the campaign ending, or at least the last debate that may still change the arriving order.  I will be covering it live either on twitter or blog.  Starting Caracas time 8 PM.  It is hosted by Globovision and it seems that the format will change some so that the candidates will have the opportunity to diss the other guys a little bit.  should be more enjoyable than the previous ones.  And Globovision is seen in many countries so check your cable if your Spanish allows for trying to watch the show.

I got post from Belgium

One year ago I wrote to the Francophone Socialist Party of Belgium (PS) to demand an explanation about a politician from that party who had visited Venezuela on several occasions, Ms Bouarfa, a senator for Brussels and former senator at the federal level. Ms Bouarfa vehemently defended military caudillo Chávez and talked very negatively about all the rest, including real social democratic parties.

Belgium has been in a political negotiations to build a government for one and a half years (a world record), so I only got an answer now. A representative of Mr Di Rupo answered. I put here just the part that concerns us the most (the rest is basically apologies for the delay, greetings): 

"Nous avons bien pris connaissance des propos tenus par Madame Bouarfa à la suite de sa visite au Venezuela. Madame Bouarfa n’était pas au Venezuela en qualité de représentante du Parti Socialiste et  s’est exprimée en son nom personnel.
Le Parti Socialiste belge, dans le cadre de l’Internationale socialiste notamment, suit attentivement la situation politique vénézuélienne. Le Parti Socialiste unifié du Venezuela n’est d’ailleurs pas membre de l’Internationale socialiste."

My free translation:

We have taken notice of the comments made by Ms Bourafa after her visit to Venezuela. Ms Bouarfa was not in Venezuela as representative of the Socialist Party and she expressed herself on her own behalf only. The Socialist Party of Belgium, particularly in the context of the Socialist International, attentively follows the political situation in Venezuela. The United Socialist Party of Venezuela is also not member of the Socialist International".

Thanks to the PS for that clarification. Next time Ms Bouarfa goes to Venezuela invited by the Chávez-dominated Consejo Supremo Electoral, she should be aware of this. She shouldn't be saying she is representing some official EU or Belgium governmental anything.

Campaign temperature

Without judging the value of that video or investigating whether the claims are correct (I assume that they are not totally misleading because at this stage of the campaign it would be too dangerous to pull such a stunt) I am putting this video ad of Leopoldo Lopez which apparently was censored by X.  It is about Lopez commitment to fight crime.  I have no further detail so far on that censorship allegation.  Regardless, it gives you an idea of the campaign temperature and probably foretells a more interesting debate than usual next Monday night.  You do not need to understand Spanish to get the mood.

The other primaries: PJ gambit in Miranda and Aragua

Let's start for the easiest one to discuss and the only one that has reliable polls for some of the races. Primero Justicia is trying to with Miranda what UNT has done in Zulia: transform the state into its political base and try from there to hopscotch elsewhere, like in next door Aragua.  For this it is willing to burn bridges and antagonize whoever it needs to.

Miranda governor

If there are five crucial races to watch in Venezuela next February, the Miranda primary for governor maybe the most telling one of the lot.  It pits former governor Mendoza of COPEI to "upstart" mayor of Petare PJ's Ocariz.  Mendoza should have been governor in lieu of Capriles but in 2008 he was "inhabilitado", barred from running through an administrative fiat of the regime.  He swallowed hard and was good sport enough to help Capriles win Miranda with his still significant popularity and electoral machine.  He expected to have the elevator sent back to him as soon as his legal if unfair limitation was lifted but no.  PJ in 2010 had quite a hard time to accept relinquishing a safe seat to Mendoza for the National Assembly.  Thus the stage was set for today's dispute where Mendoza ads have no qualms in using Capriles weakest spot of his administration, security.

Not that I want to defend Capriles but with the emergencies that he had to face because of the weather and the excessive sabotage by chavismo upset at him unseating Diosdado Cabello from Miranda and trying to investigate him for corruption, Capriles could barely breathe enough to face the emergencies and could simply not put security as a top priority.

The dispute has been long brewing and COPEI used all its contacts, with AD, inside the Unidad to force Capriles to either run for president or for reelection and thus forcing PJ to put up for grabs Miranda.  PJ took the challenge because it has a good candidate with Ocariz who in spite of all sabotaging by chavismo and an unrepresentative local council still managed to improve things in the difficult and popular district of Sucre which includes the Eastern part of Caracas choke-full of slums.

Thus the interest of the race: on one side we have the old system represented by one of its ablest managers with Henrique Mendoza and the new "upstarts" of Primero Justicia helped by chavismo dissidence.  A bellwether race if any!  Unfortunately for Mendoza, having been away for two terms and having been unable to make good figuration in the national assembly in 2011 the race will almost certainly go for Ocariz, pulled by Capriles at the top of the ticket.  Polls indicate that already. Politics is a particularly ungrateful bitch....

Miranda districts

Here PJ is aiming for the grand slam and as far as I know all districts are going to primaries with always a PJ candidate running against all the others.  The prognosis is that PJ should win the primary everywhere except perhaps in the Caracas districts of Baruta and Chacao.

Sucre which is left behind by Ocariz has the good fortune for PJ to have a candidate with a certain Caldera who actually did get better known through his job at the National Assembly.  Thus that district of Caracas should remain in the hands of PJ in any election.  But the other districts of Caracas are another matter and even victories there by PJ may not be that helpful in the long run for the resentment that they will bring.

First there is the unnecessary and even mean attempt by PJ to force its way back into Chacao town-hall now presided by Grateron of Voluntad Popular, their only elected position in the country so far for the party of Leopoldo Lopez.  This is a mean move and probably due mostly to the resentment inside PJ for Lopez departure a few years ago.  Ramon Muchacho already lost 4 years ago against Grateron, by a rather wide margin considering that it was an open 4 way race where the opposition had been unable to agree, a major scandal at the time even though Chacao is the safest opposition district in the country.  I think it is a useless distracting move by PJ and I wish the best to Grateron in the primary because he has also been a very decent mayor.  I am calling this one for Grateron in spite of the dirty campaigning of Muchacho.

Another rather mean move of PJ is in Baruta district even though at least they have an excuse there.  3 years ago the natural heir of Capriles, then outgoing mayor of Baruta, was stopped from running for an "inhabilitacion".  Uzcategui would have been a shoo in for the job and now he wants his revenge even though Gerardo Blyde did not do a bad job with the town hall, making a point to insist of continuity of a good administration, something that PJ has no consideration for.  In fact, Uzcategui is aware that like Mendoza he does not have much of a case and runs very emotional ads bringing forward shameless imagery of Capriles.  Thus in Baruta we have an interesting race where both newcomers and old timers are divided between two symbols of the new politics of Venezuela.  I am afraid that the race will in the end go for Uzcategui because of the pull of Capriles at the top and not his own merits.  But at least Blyde has a chance.

The other districts of Miranda are a free for all that all should result in a PJ victory, which stress even better that PJ should have graciously conceded at least Chacao.  But as I have noted PJ is starting to look more and more like the old parties......

Aragua governor

The only race to watch there is for governor and maybe Maracay mayor.  I think that the grip of chavismo is still too strong in that state in spite of all its failures and corruption, even the governor seat will be hard to pry.  Thus the interest of the local primaries are strictly to see how opposition parties evolve, namely if PODEMOS will be able to become a real option (doubtful since its leader left Aragua to run for a Caracas job) or whether AD and COPEI may make a slight come back.  That is, the question is will PJ be able to fill the political void of the state (UNT is nowhere to be seen there).

PJ has a good chance.  It has an appealing candidate in Richard Mardo who barely lost Maracay mayor in 2008 and won without much trouble the Maracay seat for the national assembly in 2010.  He should win the governor primary even if in front he has Henry Rosales who may have won the 2008 primary but was soundly beaten for the governor race.  Henry Rosales thus represent a little bit the old party system there and his score will be telling: if he does not get at least 40% that will mean that AD, COPEI, MAS are done with as PODEMOS prefers to hide its weakness behind PJ (possibly getting the top spot for Maracay mayor).

This race is crucial for PJ because if it is about to take control of most of Miranda it seems woefully unable to really score big outside of Caracas area.  This make the Aragua race one of the top 5 races to watch because if Mardo wins the primary it will be the first major victory of PJ outside of Caracas and its graduation from regional party to national party.

Venezuela's military government and graph theory

The first graph shows just a very small subset of the ministries and ministers since military Hugo Chávez is president of Venezuela. In these days we are hearing about the latest changes.

The Knight's Tour Puzzle? Doesn't apply. Each knight - or rather, each Boligarch - visits each square zero, one, two or more times, with no apparent reason. Tower of Hanoi? Doesn't apply either. Hugo moves several disks at a time, with no apparent pattern. The Minimal Connector Problem? What are the vertices here and what does it mean to have a cycle here? Going back to a ministry?

Venezuelan politics offers new graph puzzles. I will come back to this in a few days. 

The other primaries: ground rules for local election peering

If general attention is focused mostly on the presidential primaries of the opposition, for some of us who live in the hinterlands of Venezuela the picture is not necessarily set in the studios of Globovision or OpEd columns or blogs written from Caracas or outside the country.  Since Panorama faked debate was supposed to be about the regional proposals of the 6 musketeers, it is as a good a time to start looking into the other primaries, for governors and mayors.  The first post will be about PJ efforts in Miranda and Aragua while further posts will visit some important regional primaries but before we start, some ground rules, so to speak (so that other posts may be short and breezy).

The first thing to note is that if polling is hard to come for major candidates who have little money and keep close to their chest their cards, you can imagine how much more difficult it is for polling for governors or mayors.  In fact, the few polling one has access to sounds much more like poll wars than anything else.

The second thing to consider is that local primaries and presidential primaries affect each other a lot.  That is, if in a state PJ is running candidates, those will be helped by Henrique Capriles Radonski (HCR) relatively high polling numbers and vice versa.  But PJ candidates running in Zulia, if any, will have quite a hard time, no matter how high HCR performs, while this one may suffer in Zulia counts.

A third thing to observe is that the only candidates who have a reasonable slot of running mates elsewhere (PJ and UNT through HCR and Pablo Perez, PP respectively) three of the other candidates do not support much locals or are supported by few and yet their poll numbers, even if low, may have an effect on the local race (Arria for one has announced that he would not support any because he would have to work with all were he to become president, a posturing he may be regretting these days).  On this respect Voluntad Popular (VP) of Leopoldo Lopez (LL) is an exception of sorts as it has taken an early policy of supporting whomever is best even if that person is not supporting LL.  Though the lack of reciprocity has made VP run its own guys in many a joint.

In other words there is a lot of possible cross overs, the more so that a given governor candidate may be weak whereas the mayor one from the same party may be strong, but not strong enough to force a vote for the governor nominated.  As you will start to guess, prediction of results is rather difficult when you leave the 6 musketeers situation even though these local results could in the end have very specific consequences for them.  In Venezuela we have had some interesting surprises of vote changing at the last minute.  One of the recent examples was Grateron in Chacao who was barely ahead, supposedly closely followed by the UNT candidate and yet in the last 24 hours the pendulum shifted, he won handily, the UNT candidate got a dismal 4th position, BEHIND the chavista candidate, and for all practical purposes her career was over.

What I am trying to say is that if the presidential race is close, a couple of states could bring the decisive edge to one of the guys.  Equally, a strong lead by HCR could help a lot the PODEMOS and PJ lads running for smaller districts.  I know, I know, this is rather obvious, but what I am trying to convey is that for these primaries it may be a bigger consideration than for other electoral episodes, the more so that we are not used to primaries.  And even more if we add the immeasurable subjective factor that many people may still vote for the one they like knowing s/he will lose because they know that they will vote for the unity candidate anyway.

Finally, in spite of all of these caveats the local primaries will be a watershed election.  If they are not going to help much in deciding who will win the general election (governors are in a year and mayors in almost 1 and a half which is a life time in politics) they will be the first true and real measure on how far the new parties have advanced against the old ones.  That is, for the first time PJ, UNT will face up in enough places with AD and COPEI to see a new political who's of Venezuela while we see how recent upstarts fare (from VP to the PODEMOS and PPT combo to see how well they did in their post Chavez life).  In the end this will be the most important take home lesson of the February primaries.

Ibsen Martinez calls Maria Corina Friday moment a "black swan"

Ibsen Martinez, noted political commentator, has just published an article in La Patilla where he writes about 90% of what I wrote yesterday about Maria Corina Machado moment at the National Assembly last Friday.  The 10% missing is that he calls it a "black swan", an unexpected event that will have durable consequences.  So I do not need to translate it since you can read my post again and just add "black swan" wherever you may like :)

Debate versus cadena

Tonight we had the leisure to compare an exercise in neo-totalitarianism and an essay on democracy.  Neo-totalitarianism lost hands down.

Chavez dared to call a cadena on the formal appointment of Rangel Silva as new defense minister.  He already is but there is always a ceremony of sorts since military love to polish their shoes, dress up, pin up their shiny chest hardware.  So Chavez decided to make it a grand ceremony and attack all those who attack Rangel Silva, and upgrade (?) Maria Corina Machado from fly to viper.  I made a video of the beginning but the Internet is soooo bad tonight that I am not sure to finish this post before midnight.  So tomorrow from work I will upload it because it is worth it for you to see what a lousy army we now have, morally AND physically.

But the worse of the show was not the scenery, it was to see that in an activity that concerns exclusively the executive and the armed forces all the alleged independent powers of the state were sitting in the front row and applauding at any politicized declaration of Chavez or the out-going in in-going ministers.  The message was clear, and it was to the military of Venezuela, not me: "see, all come here to pay tribute, the change of defense ministry is the highest function of the state, you are on top.  That is, as long as you only recognize me as your commander in chief."  Heck!  Chavez was even dressed as a civilian to stress that point!  Or, in common parlance: "if you want to keep cashing good and keep your privileges, you know what you have to do".

But I will pass on the bevy of neofascist phrases from Chavez to focus in an amusing example of debate-non-debate which actually demonstrated clearly how democratic our Unidad 6 musketeers are compared to how dogmatic and brain washed chavismo has become.

Panorama newspaper did hold its debate tonight.  And it was on a Direct TV channel so after all I was able to watch it at the last minute, missing actually the opening question to Arria.  No time to warn you, sorry.  I was left with the option to tweet it live.

The format was lousy, trying to avoid debate between the candidates.  The journos of Panorama did decide on all the questions and were allowed a follow up question with a shorter 30 sec reply to the original 1 minute reply.  In other words it was Venevision again but without the glamour set or the pretense at objectivity.  After all, what can you expect from journalists that have spent the best years of their career finding creative ways to shine a positive light on the regime?

Indeed the heavy pro Chavez bias appeared from the very first round of questions.  I say heavy in my eyes because in their eyes they must have thought of themselves as paragons of objectivity.  But I can assure you that El Ciudadano at Globovision can ask meaner and more difficult questions to his friends than that bunch did from what could be considered political enemies.  And that is why the debate in the end worked because it quickly became funny.  Funny because the chavista journos were not up to the task, one of them, in Maracaibo, going as far as wearing the favored accessory of fashionable chavista women in power: a couture scarf (silly canary yellow in her case).

I am just going to give you the most glaring examples, two questions to Maria Corina who was certainly the main target tonight.  The idea was to try to ship her into irrelevance.  So they asked her about abortion to which she answered adequately, GOP style moderate.  Pressed on as to make abortion right in Venezuela a referendum (it is forbidden) she brilliantly replied that no human right should ever be put up to referendum.  But that was not enough: she was asked what quality of Dilma Roussef and Cristina Kirchner she would like to have herself.  Two socialist women, you can imagine her surprise.  But she managed well.  She made her surprise last while she found a reply and on Dilma it was easy as the woman has real qualities.  But pressed on Kirchner who has no admirably qualities whatsoever unless dirty wily politician is considered one, she replied that she could use a strong political organization which was a backhanded way to say that the woman truly suck and that the journalist should be embarrassed to consider la Kirchner a motif of admiration (well, she has one quality after all, her distaste of Iran).

The other trick questions for the other candidates were not as bad but still bad enough that quickly it became a funny sports game of volleying back to the journalist their lack of seriousness and ethics.

So you got it, another wasted opportunity.  And yet not all was lost.  First, when compared to Rangel Silva or Chavez speeches, the 6 musketeers proved each to be remarkable democrats, duly vetted and tested and able and independently minded and reasonable, and witty, and educated.  I think a political ad should be made with a few seconds of the earlier cadena and a couple of choice lines from the musketeers.

Alas, it was still a debate and there must be winners and losers.  Without a question Leopoldo Lopez was the clear winner this time around.  Finding his groove he was relaxed and intense at the same time, showing truly why he wants to be president and believing in the good he can do.  But Maria Corina Machado was a close second even though on twitter I tied her up.  The thing is that after last Friday I was trying to avoid reverse discrimination and forced myself to lower my expectations so as not to be unfair to her.  After all you cannot produce everyday a line that will resonate in all the country for days or more.  But as I type it was Leopoldo that came ahead in my mind, clearly.  His proposals made sense, he knew his stuff, he had great presence, etc...

Capriles needs more excitement in his approach and tonight he was barely adequate.  He certainly looked bored and unhappy to have been trapped in the ridiculous set up but at the end he joined the fray and showed that he could actually make fun of the journalists when he offered yellow scarf to come and be treated for free in one of the hospitals he manages in Miranda.

Medina is a mess but a lovable one as his heart is clearly in the right place.  He also had the best moment when questioned about why he was cavorting with the right, his ancient foes.  He did not need to think about the reply for a second: because "we are all united against the dictatorship".  I am sure that whatever journo at Panorama came up with that question will not receive an end of year bonus....

Arria seemed tired and got the most unfair question of all: why with low polls he is still in the race.  To begin with, no one has published a recent poll on such numbers and thus it was unfair for the journalist to share such an information which might be unknown to the candidate.  And second, as Arria rightly replied, if candidates were to decide all according to polls we would not need elections anymore.  Which, come to think of it, is exactly what chavistas would like things to be as no matter how low Chavez is the opposition division always allows him to be on top in polls, until there is a single name in front.

However the big loser, no questions, is Pablo Perez who may have damaged his campaign beyond repair tonight.  First, I wondered whether he knew he was in front of a national debate (even if labelled for the regions, which it was not in practice).  Or whether he thought this indeed was a town meeting in Tucusiapon de Machiques.  He also got the easiest question of the lot and managed to blow it totally!  He just needed to say what all know, and certainly at this level, that the price of oil is determined by how much India and China keep growing.  Instead he went on a tirade that made no sense about oil industry jobs and who knows what.  Nasty!  Thus the journo with the most idiotic question of the evening got a pass after all....  It was not, unfortunately, that question alone: in other questions he was almost as weak which forces me to my great regret to announce that he is the first candidate that I am officially discarding for February.  Heck, even for October I would have trouble to be enthusiastic about supporting him since I even doubt he can take upon Chavez....

Debatte der Opposition

Ich fange spät an.
Siehe hier

1:45 Pérez: Investitionen, Investitionen
1:46 Medina: hat keine Ahnung...oder doch: Strassenbau, Autobahnen ausbauen...und Stadien???
1:47 Machado kennt unsere Strassen. Wer tut was? fragt sie. Internationale Finanzierung kann nötig sein. Machado wird internationale Abkommen anerkennen, solange sie koscher sind.

Scheissalarm, um Zeitfrist anzudeuten.

1:50 López will auch Konzessionen.

Scheissalarm. Ist dies ein Videospiel oder eine Debatte?
Journalist kann sich nicht ausdrücken.

1:51 López wiederholt: Sicherheit und dann Infrastruktur. Er will eine Million Jobs in Tourismus...nur in Hotels. Hallo?

1:53 Arrias will Enteignungen auf dem Land rückgängig machen und vor allem seine Hazienda zurück.

1:54: Pérez: Zulia ist die Hauptstadt der Karibik. Er hat 10000 Stimmen verloren.

1:59: Medina will katholisches Fe-y-Alegría-System als Mass aller Dinge in der Bildung in Venezuela.

2:00: De Villar is Chávez-Anhänger, sagt, es gibt keine Analphabeten mehr in Venezuela. Medina sagt die Wahrheit.

2:03: Machado will Eigentum garantieren.

2:03: María Inés Delgado hat eine schöne Halskette.

2:05: López will die besten Beamten, nicht die treuesten.

2:06: Der Journalist De Villar ist ein Chávez-Anhänger.

2:07:  Capriles wieder über Ausbildung, muss aber konkreter sein. Sprich über die PISA-Studie! Schule bauen, ja, aber mehr!

2:10: Man will wisssen, ob Capriles die Abschlüsse der Bildungsprogramme der Chávez-Regierung anerkennen würde. Er redet, die Zeit ist aber um.

2:13: Medina will Erdölproduktion erhöhen und auch "industrialisieren".

2:13: Journalistin behauptet, die Erdölpreise sind so hoch, weil wir weniger produzieren. Falsch: wir produzieren weniger, weil PDVSA zugrunde geht.

2:15: Machedo sagt zum ersten Mal, dass Erdöl in 50 Jahren ersetzt werden kann und dass man das Geld investieren muss. Sie will auch, dass Venezolaner in Erdölproduktion privat investieren.

Journalisten von Panorama sind "rojos-rojitos".

2:22 Capriles sagt, man muss Einkommensquellen anderswo suchen, nicht nur Erdöl.

2:22: Die Chávez-Journalisten haben eine Fixierung mit den internationalen Abkommen.

Machado will kein Referendum, um das Abtreibungsgesetz zu gestalten. Sie will ein öffentlich Gespräch, ist persönlich für Abtreibungen bei Vergewaltigungen, Gesundheitsproblemen, usw.

2:24: Zuschauerin behauptet wieder, die hohen Erdölpreise haben mit der "Kontrolle der Produktion in Venezuela" zu tun. Pérez geht herum. Leider sagt er nicht, was man ansprechen muss: dass die venezolanische Regierung zur Zeit mit den hohen Erdölpreisen nichts zu tun hat.

2:35: Capriles will das öffentliche Gesundheitssystem so gut machen, dass man nicht unbedingt zu den privaten Kliniken gehen muss. Gut.

2:40: Medina will höhere Gehälter für Ärzte und Krankenpfleger. Er kennt die Lage.

Siehe weiter hier.

2:46: Mensch, wird jemand das Wort "Pluralismus" sagen? Das schreckt Chávez ab!

2:53: Medina sagt, Wahlbetrug ist schon programmiert.

2:55: Der älteste Kandidat sagt, er ist die Chance der Jugend.

Shifting political grounds

I am not too sure what is exactly going on but one thing is certain: many players are getting ready for a change.  We are not sure what change is coming but something is coming.  And I am not talking about only the possibility of Chavez losing office.

The thing is that the reactions of some pro Chavez players added to the general reactions to Maria Corina Machado "por ahora" moment last Friday has been quite revealing in that some form change is certainly coming.  I doubt that people know what they want but that is another story.  I have been thinking a lot about that since Saturday and below, in no particular order, some thoughts.

MCM and PJ: exposing the COPEI-zation of Primero Justicia?

Last night Julio Borges, the head honcho at Primero Justicia, was in Alo Ciudadano.  We need to understand that if Capriles is the candidate of PJ, Borges is the one running the show inside.  He had actually a stellar moment last Friday too when he told Chavez that there was no point in discussing whether the regime built X houses when independent observers calculate it is only Y houses.  His question was simple: if the regime indeed has built so many lodgings how come the climate refugees of 2010 and 2011 are still in the refuges?  No real answer from Chavez on why these people have not received these houses for which we were told they had priority to the point of violating the Constitution with an enabling law, but we got in exchange a cruel exposition of chavismo hypocrisy, and on paper as good as the MCM thievery implication.  Thus Borges was invited for a serious commenting on Chavez declarations; and yet every caller wanted to talk about MCM, one silly woman even asking why did not Borges defend MCM as if he were expected to run on stage and beat down Chavez to a pulp because he looked askance at Maria......

The answer to these emotions lies elsewhere.  PJ is facing a problem that is bigger than what we thought: some people are resentful that PJ which natural vocation was to become a modern liberal right of center alternative is instead giving the appearance of selling out.  That woman so harshly criticizing Borges is probably a Caracas woman that marched in many opposition rallies, probably often next to the PJ contingent if not within.

The thing is that it has been disconcerting to many, including yours truly, to see with what ease PJ has allied itself with all sorts of transfuges from chavismo.  Nobody can quite clearly understand how come PODEMOS and PPT have been so easily able to pact with PJ when there were more logical options.  If to this you add the non confrontational campaign of HCR, openly wooing the soft chavista vote, you can easily understand that the hard core opposition voters who are at the start of PJ are rather discombobulated even if until now they followed orders accepting the pragmatism of PJ campaign.  You must remember that PJ leadership in 2002 and 2003 got a lot of tear gas thrown at them when Leo was still inside and when Ismael was still defending Chavez.

I have a possible explanation: dissidence of chavismo and reality checks have convinced PJ to become the one to deal with chavismo to ease its way out.  That is why PODEMOS and PPT are in so readily because they think that negotiations are in order, that chavismo after 13 years cannot be removed as if nothing and thus a transition period is a must, which hopefully will benefit PPT and PODEMOS while PJ will hold power for as few years as possible.  This implies that enough inside chavismo know they are done for the time being and are unwilling to lose their privileges making them willing to negotiate through third parties preservation of a power/wealth quota.

But this does not go without its problems for PJ and HCR as the not insignificant rather radical vote inside PJ is having a harder and harder time to swallow the pill.  We have had that happen in our past and to this day we are still paying the price.  COPEI started as the democratic right wing option to AD left wing.  Yet it seemed very difficult for COPEI to reach power and its leader, Rafael Caldera was not the most patient of men.  What he did was very simple: taking advantage of an AD internal division, he squeaked into power with the slimmest of margins and made a pact with AD by which AD retained some parcels of power while COPEI completed its transition to an AD like populism.  As a result AD and COPEI became every election harder to differentiate, people got tired of the lack of options and in 1998 Chavez swept away the system.

Thus Primero Justica may be having its own COPEI like moment and there will be consequences to pay.

Maria Corina Machado and the new right?

While PJ is facing into consensus politics blandness MCM did break a taboo of Venezuelan politics last Friday, in addition of her "por ahora" moment.

Since 1958 there has been no avowed enter right party in Venezuela (except in circumstantial moments, flash in the pans like the Cruzada Civica Nacionalista of the 60ies).  Even COPEI called itself "social-christian".  Not only this has not helped the country by never offering a credible alternative, but it also helped Chavez in calling all those to his right the "ultra-right", and make it stick.  After all, no one in Venezuela has any good idea what the democratic right stands for, since even our "traditional" right, the army, is now proclaiming itself socialist.

By reverting the tables when calling the socialism of Chavez robbery, MCM might have hit much harder and higher than she ever thought she could.  Her enthusiastic reception by students and business folks last Sunday at the UNIMET tells us that.  Her "capitalismo popular" suddenly becomes more credible as it is suddenly not associated anymore to the erroneous notion that free enterprise is organized robbery as chavismo would like us to believe.

Suddenly MCM has a role much bigger for her than winning next February 12: she is going to singlehandedly have the opportunity to create a democratic right movement that in 6 years from now (and probably much less) will become a real political option in Venezuela.  As such, she stands right now to bring the biggest political change in Venezuela since 1958.  Yes, 1958, because Chavez is a continuation of precedent politics, the final outcome of crass populism that always ends up into a transmutation into some form of fascism.

I do not know, and less speculate on how fast this will happen.  It is probably too late for MCM to win next month, but it is quite possible that of today the HCR coalition can only grow from its left, as it will start a slow bleeding from its right.  But this, to me, is not the point anymore.  Be it Diego Arria or HCR, the next president will by force be a transition figure and surprising political novelties are in store for us.

Opportunists in the rebound

A sure mark that chavismo knows that change is on the horizon comes from of the pro Chavez private media which is suddenly rushing to renew their ties with the opposition.  We already had the lousy debate at Venevision early December but today we have a stunt by Panoramra offering a debate among Unidad candidates through an Internet format and regional TV, labelled a debate for the regions.  Seeing Panorama, the oldest and still main Maracaibo paper which has not written a nice line about anyone inside the opposition since I can remember, organizing a Unidad debate is at the very least a shocker.  I am not going to reproach the primary candidate to participate in it, they need all the exposure they can get and such a Panorama move is good in particular if you ant to reach the soft chavista vote, but I note that of this tying the debate is only advertised by Panorama, of course, but also by Venevision....  Nor will I expect much from them since Panorama controls all the questions, even from the Internet, so we may be assured that they will try to avoid any offense to Chavez, reeling badly from last Friday as it is.

I will not follow the debate because my Internet is too lousy for such an event and Direct TV does not carry my regional TV.  But that is OK, I am sure.  Panorama is not expecting to change anything, they are just doing the needed hypocrisy to remain in business once the regime falls.  Who knows, such a spineless paper may be some day supporting a right wing government of MCM........