Archive for April, 2004

To go or not to go, that is the question

April 25, 2004

As the opposition ponders whether to go or not to the process of ratifying the signatures to request Chavez recall it is interesting to review what part of the rules for the process will make it difficult to reach the goal of 2.35 million valid signatures.


First of all, in the end there was no agreement between the CNE and the Coordinadora Democrática (CD). The Coordinadora negotiated some points, but it was never able to get all of those points considered indispensable from the CNE. The CD did make it clear that some proposals, like that of the fingerprints or the possibility of appealing the results after the close of the polls were simply not negotiable. If they were approved the Coordinadora would simply not participate in the process.


 


Similarly, the CNE refused to negotiate some points, such as the close to 400,000 signatures which were declared invalid due to a number of technicalities, mostly dealing with the cover sheet (“Acta”) and not with the signatures themselves.


 


The Coordinadora did manage to convince the CNE on the following points:


 


-The CNE in the end decided to accept the concept of sudden death, by which the results of the process will be announced and there will be no appeal to the CNE. Each day, the CD will receive copies of all of the notebooks with the results for the day. Once the results are added for the last day, that’s it. Of course, this does not say anything about what happens if there is a numerical difference between what is announced by the CNE and what is in the notebooks.


 


-Initially, the CNE wanted to have a single PC at each center independent of the number of signatures. The CD had calculated that this would create a severe limitation to the total number of people that could ratify their signatures. In the end, some centers will not even have PC’s.


 


-Initially, the CNE wanted to have the result of the PC’s to be the final one. Given the potential for tricks, the CD refused to accept it and in the end it will be the total from the notebooks that will be the binding result.


 


-There will be no fingerprint checking as proposed by the legal counsel of the CNE in the first draft of the regulations.


 


The CD lost on a number of points:


 


-It wanted to have centers adjacent to those of the CNE to assist people. The idea was that the CD would tell people the status of their signature here. This would help speed up the flow by keeping people whose signatures were either valid or invalid from clogging up the lines at the CNE polling booths. The CNE did not agree to these, but may still allow them.


 


-The CD wanted to have the CNE polling centers stay open as long as there were people in line. The CNE approved that this would happen only on the last day. (I see no rationale for this)


 


-The CD wanted to have partial results made public every single day, this was not approved. (Once again, this has no rationale)


 


-Perhaps the most amazing twist of logic is that the regulations state that there will be five days for the ratification process, but the CNE got away with reducing them to three by saying that the first and last day for setting up and dismantling the centers. These should not count as part of the process and it represents the most incredible interpretation of the original regulations.


 


In the end, what this shows, at least to me, is that the only questionable aspect is that the three days may not be enough for everyone that wants to ratify their signature, given the nature of the process, the use of the PC’s and the fact that thousands of Chavistas may go to the booths simply to create lines. Given that the opposition needs as many as possible to ratify their signatures, this in the end may be its demise. Once again a subtle trick could make the whole difference.

To go or not to go, that is the question

April 25, 2004

As the opposition ponders whether to go or not to the process of ratifying the signatures to request Chavez recall it is interesting to review what part of the rules for the process will make it difficult to reach the goal of 2.35 million valid signatures.


First of all, in the end there was no agreement between the CNE and the Coordinadora Democrática (CD). The Coordinadora negotiated some points, but it was never able to get all of those points considered indispensable from the CNE. The CD did make it clear that some proposals, like that of the fingerprints or the possibility of appealing the results after the close of the polls were simply not negotiable. If they were approved the Coordinadora would simply not participate in the process.


 


Similarly, the CNE refused to negotiate some points, such as the close to 400,000 signatures which were declared invalid due to a number of technicalities, mostly dealing with the cover sheet (“Acta”) and not with the signatures themselves.


 


The Coordinadora did manage to convince the CNE on the following points:


 


-The CNE in the end decided to accept the concept of sudden death, by which the results of the process will be announced and there will be no appeal to the CNE. Each day, the CD will receive copies of all of the notebooks with the results for the day. Once the results are added for the last day, that’s it. Of course, this does not say anything about what happens if there is a numerical difference between what is announced by the CNE and what is in the notebooks.


 


-Initially, the CNE wanted to have a single PC at each center independent of the number of signatures. The CD had calculated that this would create a severe limitation to the total number of people that could ratify their signatures. In the end, some centers will not even have PC’s.


 


-Initially, the CNE wanted to have the result of the PC’s to be the final one. Given the potential for tricks, the CD refused to accept it and in the end it will be the total from the notebooks that will be the binding result.


 


-There will be no fingerprint checking as proposed by the legal counsel of the CNE in the first draft of the regulations.


 


The CD lost on a number of points:


 


-It wanted to have centers adjacent to those of the CNE to assist people. The idea was that the CD would tell people the status of their signature here. This would help speed up the flow by keeping people whose signatures were either valid or invalid from clogging up the lines at the CNE polling booths. The CNE did not agree to these, but may still allow them.


 


-The CD wanted to have the CNE polling centers stay open as long as there were people in line. The CNE approved that this would happen only on the last day. (I see no rationale for this)


 


-The CD wanted to have partial results made public every single day, this was not approved. (Once again, this has no rationale)


 


-Perhaps the most amazing twist of logic is that the regulations state that there will be five days for the ratification process, but the CNE got away with reducing them to three by saying that the first and last day for setting up and dismantling the centers. These should not count as part of the process and it represents the most incredible interpretation of the original regulations.


 


In the end, what this shows, at least to me, is that the only questionable aspect is that the three days may not be enough for everyone that wants to ratify their signature, given the nature of the process, the use of the PC’s and the fact that thousands of Chavistas may go to the booths simply to create lines. Given that the opposition needs as many as possible to ratify their signatures, this in the end may be its demise. Once again a subtle trick could make the whole difference.

Smoke and mirrors in the Chavez era

April 24, 2004

On Thursday Hugo Chavez held a meeting at the Presidential palace to “celebrate” the placing of the New 2011 bond. The issue was for US$ 1 billion, has a coupon of three month Libor plus 1% and there was demand for twice as much as the size of the issue.


It was a carefully coordinated show, with the Vice-Minister of finance in New York interviewing analysts about how great the economic team is doing and how well received these bond issues are. The Venezuelan Ambassador to the US also spoke abut how well received this issues are in the US.


 


Then came Chavez who rambled on in his usual style, talking about the fact that these bonds demonstrate the confidence that foreign investors have in Venezuela, following the line of the country’s economic team and his representative to the US.


 


Well, the truth is that this bond was sold to local investors only in local currency. In fact, they are not registered with the SEC and are issued under the so called Reg “S” which means that for forty days, no US investor will be able to buy it. Thus, what was left unsaid is that it was succesful because it was sold to locals, thanks to the exchange controls. Yes, foreign investors will buy them eventually, but not because the economic team is wonderful or doing well (technically you can’t fault these issues), but because oil prices are high, nothing more, nothing less.


 


The rest is simply smoke and mirrors.

Smoke and mirrors in the Chavez era

April 24, 2004

On Thursday Hugo Chavez held a meeting at the Presidential palace to “celebrate” the placing of the New 2011 bond. The issue was for US$ 1 billion, has a coupon of three month Libor plus 1% and there was demand for twice as much as the size of the issue.


It was a carefully coordinated show, with the Vice-Minister of finance in New York interviewing analysts about how great the economic team is doing and how well received these bond issues are. The Venezuelan Ambassador to the US also spoke abut how well received this issues are in the US.


 


Then came Chavez who rambled on in his usual style, talking about the fact that these bonds demonstrate the confidence that foreign investors have in Venezuela, following the line of the country’s economic team and his representative to the US.


 


Well, the truth is that this bond was sold to local investors only in local currency. In fact, they are not registered with the SEC and are issued under the so called Reg “S” which means that for forty days, no US investor will be able to buy it. Thus, what was left unsaid is that it was succesful because it was sold to locals, thanks to the exchange controls. Yes, foreign investors will buy them eventually, but not because the economic team is wonderful or doing well (technically you can’t fault these issues), but because oil prices are high, nothing more, nothing less.


 


The rest is simply smoke and mirrors.

Mayor murdered

April 24, 2004

No sooner had the Minister of Defense suspended permits to carry guns that the Mayor of the Bolivar municipality in Zulia state was murdered by three gunmen. Mayor Franklin Duno was an opposition mayor week known for his stance against the Government’s efforts to reverse the decentralization process. It does appear to be a robbery and not politically motivated.

Operation Total Shame

April 23, 2004

This is not a joke. If you read Spanish, please go here and read exactly what was said. If you still don’t believe any rational, decent and civilized human being could possible say this, then check it out here.


Here is a fairly close and detailed translation of what the former President of the Venezuelan National Assembly said today, I heard it, so it is not the opposition media inventing it. Mr. Lara, a pro-Chavez supporter, who does not even deserve being called Mr. but simply scum, said:


 


Pro-Government forces will execute operation “Popular Sovereignty” which will consist in visiting the people who appear in the lists of valid signatures (to request Chavez’ recall) and under observation with the purpose of  “convincing them that it is pertinent to void the signatures when they are valid and not ratifying them when it deals with those that are under observation or need to be ratified”


 


They estimate that the goal “will likely reach voiding 15% at least of the signatures considered valid by the National Electoral Council in the case of the presidential recall vote”


 


He explained that they are convinced that many of the signatures were collected “thru blackmail and pressure”


 


This is probably one of the most fascist, totalitarian and abusive statements I have heard during this Chavista Government. To threaten to “visit” people to ‘convince’ them is so absurd and abusive that I simply can’t believe any rational, civilized and sensible human being could have said what William Lara said. This guy is simply scum, pure scum, he should be despised and if we ever get rid of all of this scum, he should be brought to trial for violating people’s civil rights. He represents fascism at its worst


 


Shame on him and those around him that have planned this sordid operation which should be called “Operation Total Shame” and sets a new low for this totalitarian and abusive Government.

Operation Total Shame

April 23, 2004

This is not a joke. If you read Spanish, please go here and read exactly what was said. If you still don’t believe any rational, decent and civilized human being could possible say this, then check it out here.


Here is a fairly close and detailed translation of what the former President of the Venezuelan National Assembly said today, I heard it, so it is not the opposition media inventing it. Mr. Lara, a pro-Chavez supporter, who does not even deserve being called Mr. but simply scum, said:


 


Pro-Government forces will execute operation “Popular Sovereignty” which will consist in visiting the people who appear in the lists of valid signatures (to request Chavez’ recall) and under observation with the purpose of  “convincing them that it is pertinent to void the signatures when they are valid and not ratifying them when it deals with those that are under observation or need to be ratified”


 


They estimate that the goal “will likely reach voiding 15% at least of the signatures considered valid by the National Electoral Council in the case of the presidential recall vote”


 


He explained that they are convinced that many of the signatures were collected “thru blackmail and pressure”


 


This is probably one of the most fascist, totalitarian and abusive statements I have heard during this Chavista Government. To threaten to “visit” people to ‘convince’ them is so absurd and abusive that I simply can’t believe any rational, civilized and sensible human being could have said what William Lara said. This guy is simply scum, pure scum, he should be despised and if we ever get rid of all of this scum, he should be brought to trial for violating people’s civil rights. He represents fascism at its worst


 


Shame on him and those around him that have planned this sordid operation which should be called “Operation Total Shame” and sets a new low for this totalitarian and abusive Government.

Mision Wild, Wild, West

April 23, 2004

 


The Venezuelan Government began its Mision Wild, Wild, West today and voided today all permits to carry arms. All citizens wishing to renew their permit will be required to carry out a ballistic test on their weapon before renewing their permit at no cost.


 


This is a typical Chavista solution to the problem of crime and deaths every day in Venezuela, as if the criminals involved in these crimes actually had permits to carry their guns. What this truly means is that those that have legal weapons will not be able to use them for the next 90 days, criminals will continue to use them and in 90 days you will have all weapons used for defensive purposes registered and tested ballistically while a huge number of weapons, much larger than the legal ones, floats around the barrios killing people every weekend. If you don’t believe me, just watch the number of deaths next Monday in the local papers.


 


I don’t like weapons; I have never fired one or carried one. I am not the type that believes that there is a right to bear arms (That is part of the US Constitution, but not of ours). What I do understand is that most killings take place within the family circle and that to really prevent deaths from handguns; you have to provide something more than just a decree banning all weapons.


 


I am not sure what the Government intends to do with this. I could be extremely paranoid and think there is an ulterior motive, like jailing lots of opposition figures or their bodyguards in the next few weeks for carrying weapons. But in the end this is probably another shotgun solution, maybe Chavez will announce on Sunday the Mision Wild, Wild West, to stop violent deaths in the barrios, much like the other Misiones which are nothing more than propaganda ploys to raise the President’s popularity.


 


To stop the killings in the barrios you need more prevention in the form of police, a good judicial system and continuous confiscation of illegal weapons. But in Venezuela we seem to believe in “magic” solutions. You don’t stop crime by banning weapons, the same way you don’t stop corruption by making it illegal. Much like this decree banning weapons, Venezuela probably has had for decades one of the most advanced anti-corruption bills in the world and we all know what has happened with that problem!


 


Ironically, the ploy is to attack the problem of crime, one of the most important problems facing Venezuelans five years ago when they went to the polls and elected Chavez. Many Venezuelans naively believed that given Chavez’ military background, he would make this his first priority. Well, five years later, after crime has grown four fold in the last five years, the Chavez administration appears at last to be taking a stab at the problem. Unfortunately the methods and techniques are as ineffective as those being used to solve most problems in Venezuela today by the current Government.

CNE approves ratification process, last chance to stop Chavez?

April 21, 2004


Last night, after I had gone to bed, the CNE announced that the regulations for the ratification process for the signatures had been approved with the usual three to two vote by the members of the Board of The Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE). The CNE also announced the final numbers of the signatures that are valid (1.910.965), those that are considered under observation or had problems (1.192.114). This implies that the opposition will need to have 580,231 voters show up to say they did sign the first time around. These numbers also have 83.948 more valid signatures than announced by the President of the CNE last March 2nd., but conversations between the opposition and the CNE had also indicated that there were about 100,000 more signatures that could be ratified, which have now mysteriously disappeared.


The process for the recall referendum will take place on May 27th. to 31st., with the first and last days to “set up” in another mysterious and unheard of interpretation of the regulations. There will be no fingerprint verification as had been proposed and the CNE workers manning the poling booths will use the national ID card as valid identification for the person. These workers may be able to challenge the identity of the person if there are differences.


 


The regulations contemplate the concept of “sudden death” by which once the totals are added from the electoral notebooks, that total will be announced and no challenge may be presented to the CNE on the signatures contained in them.


 


Each polling station will be manned by 2 CNE workers and two alternates and there will be one operator with its alternate. There will be a witness from each side. The polls will be opened from 6 AM to 6PM for all three days, but if there are still lines when they close on the last day, they will remain open.


 


Each polling station will have infrastructure according to its size. Since people will have to go to the same station that they signed in, the CNE knows how many signatures can be ratified in each center. Those centers with less than 100 possible signatures to ratify will have only electoral notebooks with no PC’s and one table. If the number is between 100 and 1100 there will be one notebook and one PC. There will e two notebooks and two PC’s in those with 1101 to 21000 and for those with more than 2101 there will be three tables, three notebooks and three PC’s.


 


The CNE once again said that the information with the result of each signature will be published in the newspapers, which I still want to see given that 3.4million signatures in legible format would require a phone book sized document. The re will also be a telephone number, a web page and the information will be posted in all the polling booths. There will be a total of 2659 centers for people to go to.


 


International observers will be allowed to participate in the process and former President Jimmy Carter already confirmed that the Carter Center will participate.


 


A month ago I would have been very excited with this process, today I simply can’t. I am sitting here as I write this wondering where the next trick is going to come from. Is it going to be an injunction by the Comando Ayacucho against the process? Is it going to be thousands of Chavistas going to the ratification process at the end of May to clog up the lines? Is it going to be a fraudulent procedure to say thousands of people went and said they never signed? I simply don’t know, but I know its coming, after everything that has been done to block the process I can not think the Chavistas will sit and allow us to ratify a sufficiently large number of signatures.


 


While the opposition has yet to say that they will go forward and participate, I think they will approve it. It certainly looks doable to get the less than 50% of those that signed to go and say that they did. In fact, with the appropriate mobilization it looks quite reasonable that the opposition will be successful. Basically, the opposition can identify a large number of those whose signatures can be ratified and can make the effort to encourage them to go out and even offer help when needed. Those that signed for Chavez’s recall are sufficiently motivated that this should be quite possible.


 


The Chavistas claim that they will have 250,000 to 280,000 people go and say they withdraw their signatures. The opposition thinks this an exaggeration no matter what threats are made against people. The opposition thinks this number will be around 60,000. It would seem reasonable than in the absence of tricks, the opposition will manage to drive out 60%-plus of those whose signatures have been questioned.


 


Thus, it will come down to tricks and fraud. The opposition has to be vigilant about where the tricks will come from this time around. Last time, nobody saw the problem with the same calligraphy forms, a concept that was invented once the Chavistas realized that the opposition had indeed gathered sufficient signatures to hold the recall. Somehow I think this time it will be some legal maneuvering which will stop the process sufficiently to slow it down once again. But who knows. There is also the wildcard that the Electoral hall will in the end manage to get the issue to the full Court and all of the same calligraphy forms be validated.


 


But in the end, it is hard to get excited. For months playing dirty has been the rule at the CNE. CNE Directors and the Constitutional Hall of the Supreme Court have shown they are partial to the Government and blocking the process. They have no qualms, no morals to do what is ethical, right or legal. Thus, we can expect more of the same, boding badly for the recall, the opposition and the country. This is our last chance to stop Chavez.

CNE approves ratification process, last chance to stop Chavez?

April 21, 2004


Last night, after I had gone to bed, the CNE announced that the regulations for the ratification process for the signatures had been approved with the usual three to two vote by the members of the Board of The Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE). The CNE also announced the final numbers of the signatures that are valid (1.910.965), those that are considered under observation or had problems (1.192.114). This implies that the opposition will need to have 580,231 voters show up to say they did sign the first time around. These numbers also have 83.948 more valid signatures than announced by the President of the CNE last March 2nd., but conversations between the opposition and the CNE had also indicated that there were about 100,000 more signatures that could be ratified, which have now mysteriously disappeared.


The process for the recall referendum will take place on May 27th. to 31st., with the first and last days to “set up” in another mysterious and unheard of interpretation of the regulations. There will be no fingerprint verification as had been proposed and the CNE workers manning the poling booths will use the national ID card as valid identification for the person. These workers may be able to challenge the identity of the person if there are differences.


 


The regulations contemplate the concept of “sudden death” by which once the totals are added from the electoral notebooks, that total will be announced and no challenge may be presented to the CNE on the signatures contained in them.


 


Each polling station will be manned by 2 CNE workers and two alternates and there will be one operator with its alternate. There will be a witness from each side. The polls will be opened from 6 AM to 6PM for all three days, but if there are still lines when they close on the last day, they will remain open.


 


Each polling station will have infrastructure according to its size. Since people will have to go to the same station that they signed in, the CNE knows how many signatures can be ratified in each center. Those centers with less than 100 possible signatures to ratify will have only electoral notebooks with no PC’s and one table. If the number is between 100 and 1100 there will be one notebook and one PC. There will e two notebooks and two PC’s in those with 1101 to 21000 and for those with more than 2101 there will be three tables, three notebooks and three PC’s.


 


The CNE once again said that the information with the result of each signature will be published in the newspapers, which I still want to see given that 3.4million signatures in legible format would require a phone book sized document. The re will also be a telephone number, a web page and the information will be posted in all the polling booths. There will be a total of 2659 centers for people to go to.


 


International observers will be allowed to participate in the process and former President Jimmy Carter already confirmed that the Carter Center will participate.


 


A month ago I would have been very excited with this process, today I simply can’t. I am sitting here as I write this wondering where the next trick is going to come from. Is it going to be an injunction by the Comando Ayacucho against the process? Is it going to be thousands of Chavistas going to the ratification process at the end of May to clog up the lines? Is it going to be a fraudulent procedure to say thousands of people went and said they never signed? I simply don’t know, but I know its coming, after everything that has been done to block the process I can not think the Chavistas will sit and allow us to ratify a sufficiently large number of signatures.


 


While the opposition has yet to say that they will go forward and participate, I think they will approve it. It certainly looks doable to get the less than 50% of those that signed to go and say that they did. In fact, with the appropriate mobilization it looks quite reasonable that the opposition will be successful. Basically, the opposition can identify a large number of those whose signatures can be ratified and can make the effort to encourage them to go out and even offer help when needed. Those that signed for Chavez’s recall are sufficiently motivated that this should be quite possible.


 


The Chavistas claim that they will have 250,000 to 280,000 people go and say they withdraw their signatures. The opposition thinks this an exaggeration no matter what threats are made against people. The opposition thinks this number will be around 60,000. It would seem reasonable than in the absence of tricks, the opposition will manage to drive out 60%-plus of those whose signatures have been questioned.


 


Thus, it will come down to tricks and fraud. The opposition has to be vigilant about where the tricks will come from this time around. Last time, nobody saw the problem with the same calligraphy forms, a concept that was invented once the Chavistas realized that the opposition had indeed gathered sufficient signatures to hold the recall. Somehow I think this time it will be some legal maneuvering which will stop the process sufficiently to slow it down once again. But who knows. There is also the wildcard that the Electoral hall will in the end manage to get the issue to the full Court and all of the same calligraphy forms be validated.


 


But in the end, it is hard to get excited. For months playing dirty has been the rule at the CNE. CNE Directors and the Constitutional Hall of the Supreme Court have shown they are partial to the Government and blocking the process. They have no qualms, no morals to do what is ethical, right or legal. Thus, we can expect more of the same, boding badly for the recall, the opposition and the country. This is our last chance to stop Chavez.

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