Archive for December 4th, 2006

Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow

December 4, 2006

Today:

It was certainly an eerie day, empty streets, everyone around me moody, down, and everyone wondering what is in store for the future. Lots of phone calls asking about fraud, results and what do you know about such and such a rumor. No new celebrations by the pro-Chavez people until late in the afternoon, when they moved an inflatable Chavez figure to Plaza Altamira, blocking traffic and irking everyone, both for the symbolism as well as for the traffic on a day of no traffic, a true rarity in Caracas these days.

I still find it surprising that so many people did not go to work and please don’t think it was the opposition, a friend who works at a Ministry was the only want in her section to show up, today, prompting her boss to wonder how you could stage a revolution when only one person and from the opposition would show up because an election was won.

I got lots of phone calls by people wanting wisdom about the results, our future and the like, but I was not much in the mood for talking and I did have lots of work today. Some things just never change. And I take my job very seriously.

I did make some phone calls to people I know were part of the process or participated in it, to get their impressions. The ones involved in the technical parts could certainly not tell me anything was fishy. The voting machines in particular were fairly open this time and people looked through them up and down. Yes, there were blank ballots and the like, but nothing on the scale that would turn the results around.

There were certainly some puzzles, like the real time data that came out of the fingerprint machines and was giving high abstention numbers at noon and never showed anything close to the final results. I also looked at certain locations to understand some numbers and I can’t tell anything is fishy. For example, I was surprised by Rosales’ loss, but a quick check of Zulia state and the municipalities I know are pro-Rosales there confirmed my impressions, Rosales did indeed win there, it is precisely in the ones I have little knowledge about that Chavez won, and big. (You can check the results, without audits here, where you can go to the detail of your table. In mine, Rosales got 85% of the vote)

I am also puzzled by the fact that the opposition barely got over the number of votes of the recall referendum. Amazing how increased crime, 25% of inflation in food since May and the inefficiency of the Government does not seem to hurt Chavez. Technical teams will be reassembling tomorrow and I hope to have more information as it comes out. What is clear from all of the data I gathered is that Chavez won, won big, but the margin is surprisingly large.

Pollsters did not get the numbers right in terms of abstention, but their “error” was lower. Of what I consider “reputable” pollsters, none survived, maybe next time I will start m own company. Pollsters were playing a strange game. Publicly, some of them did not publish any polls after November 15th. but were giving different numbers in private from their earlier ones, as if hedging their bets. However, they would give different numbers depending on their audience. Under the Devils’ rule of one miss and you are out for a pollster, in the next election I will have to start my own polling company.

I heard Minister of Defense Baduell gloating about the results. That’s ok, but I could not help be disturbed by his discussion at the end of the feasibility study of a helicopter factory in Venezuela. Not even his mother will believe him when he says it will be built if the feasibility study is positive, if Chavez wants it ,will be built, but it certainly seemed out of place to talk about building military plants today. I guess this is what this toy-soldiers think and care about, what their new toys are going to be and we have gone from machines guns, planes and helicopters to whole factories.

Yesterday:

It is clear to me that the current voting system is simply wrong. The country has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on fingerprint machines and voting machines and the process is as confusing and slow as ever.

The voting machines have been improved. The piece of paper you get is no longer a puzzling script that can barely be read, but the candidates name could be clearly read in big letters. There were too many parties backing the candidates which made the oval you had to press to vote too difficult to find or could be confused with a different party, particularly for old people or those with less technical ability, which applies to the average Venezuelan. The paper ballot coming out of the machines that were “new”, as in those being used for the first time, did not flow easily out of the machine. Mine was like that, and I must say at some point I was ready to pull it out which would rip it. Too many machines failed, over 1,000 of them according to press reports. This is simply unacceptable.

The fingerprint machines are a different story. Technical people involved in studying the process confirm what has been said here before: They can’t do their job, they intimidate people, they are not everywhere and they are complicated to use. Most delays were caused by these machines. If they had not been present, the whole process would have ended earlier, which would have been much better for transparency.

The audits were largely completed, however, it was extremely unfair for the CNE to make their first announcement while some people were still doing the audits. The Rosales team was reportedly gathering data on the audits to check their two exit polls and quick count when the CNE made the first announcement. I know people who were still doing their audit job at that time. I still have not been able to see audit numbers.

The ink was the pits, mine came off easily, while others did not. It is very screwy when you can’t even get a simple chemical mix right.

A lot of people did not like Rosales’ concession speech. I guess they were not listening during the campaign. Rosales was an effective campaigner, but he is not a great speaker. If he believed that he had lost, I think he waited long enough, he did need people to get the audits done. His campaign headquarters was somewhat disorganized, I got the feeling that anyone that wanted to get up and say something could. A few people did, but fortunately the press ignored them, it would have made Rosales look very bad. This was the reason why Rosales sent Petkoff to address the crowd. In the end Rosales was the best campaigner available, the only grassroots politician. Better than Petkoff and way better than Borges, and anyone that believes that Er Conde was a well intentioned candidate s is simply a fool. Venezuela has always had too many “living room” politicians that get us nowhere, Rosales was not one. He did a great job given the time limitation. I still think he should have started earlier

I can’t help but be critical of Reuters and Telesur. Reuters published an exit poll at 5 PM and inserted a message that this was not to be disseminated in Venezuela where it was illegal to do so. I bet they would not even dare say the same in the US during the night of a presidential election before polls close. Shame of them.

The second one was Telesur that claiming it is a foreign TV station released a projection that Chavez had obtained 67% or 68% of the vote. Telesur is operated form Venezuela and 80% of its funding is Venezuelan so this was truly absurd.

Even more absurd was the Minister of Information William Lara at the CNE. Lara hold the Government job I mentioned, while simultaneously being the official spokesman for Chavez’ MVR party. That’s what I call a “small” conflict of interest. But yesterday when asked about Telesur’ violation of the law, he actually managed to introduce a third position, that of a citizen. He said he was at the CNE, not acting as Minister of Information and/or spokesman for Chavez’ MVR, but as a “concerned citizen” and thus he col
d not comment on Telesur’s actions. That is certainly skirting the issue and not assuming his responsibility, after all two days ago Chavez had threatened to cancel the concessions of any TV station that would give results before the first CNE report. I guess it did not apply to pro-Government stations.

Finally the Government abused its power and resources without any control in a manner that proves that there are no checks and balances in Venezuela and there is no rule of law, another achievement of the Chavez revolution.

Tomorrow:

Yesterday’s results bode badly for my country. With this election Chavez will be in power fat least or fourteen years, which I believe is too long for any country more so in these ones. I used to think our five years without immediate reelection was healthy, maybe I would have extended it to six. But no political alternability can’t be healthy for any political or economic system.

I think that the problems our country has are the same ones that existed eight years ago and most have gotten worse. Blaming our problems on foreign powers is just a political game. Venezuela is a poor country that needs education, hard work, long term planning, investment and democracy. None of those values have been promoted by Chavez during the last eight years. There is no reason to start now.

Chavez said in his speech last night that he would convene another Constituent Assembly and create a single party, which will simply give him more power than ever. The type of educational programs he is talking about have more to with politics than anything else, there is no long term planning but only short term improvisation and investment in Venezuela is very low, whether coming from abroad or by the Government. All of this is bad for democracy and bad for the people. He spoke of stopping corruption and crime after allowing both to get out of hand in the last eight years by simply not paying attention.

Economically Venezuela is very far away from where I would like it to be. The state is getting stronger, the private sector will be threatened even more now (Chavez dixit), land expropriations will be intensified and controls will be added to the economy. Military projects will grow in sze, no matter how inappropriate.Meanwhile, monetary policy is simply whacky, the financial system is screwy and the tools available to the Government to correct distortions, such as lower interest rates and issuing new debt, may be reaching their limits. Any changes in oil prices, inflation, economic policy or interest rates, could easily lead to severe problems.

Much like the Chavez model for PDVSA, Venezuela has become a transactional country. Those involved in finance and commerce are becoming very rich. Those that have local production plants or facilities are simply losing ground to increasing inflation and regulations and controls. All of this in the midst of the highest levels of corruption and inefficiency the country ahs ever seen. Despite the huge oil windfall, the strains in the system are beginning to show. The CPI is being predicted to hit 25% next year, the parallel rate is likely to hit Bs. 4,000 in 2007 unless oil price skyrocket.

Meanwhile, the Government has added 1.5 million new workers to the payroll in the last eight years. Add the creation of a parallel Government with no controls, Mercal, misiones and the people depend more and more on the Government’s largesse. They have become dependent on that same Government structure.

But a majority of Venezuelans seems to favor that model of Government, the same model that has not created many jobs outside Government in the last eight years. Add Chavez’ charisma, the new boli-bourgeois and the uncontrolled spending and maybe you can begin to understand yesterday’s results.

But what nobody can possibly convince me that this is solid structural footing for the future of any country. A revolution would have been to change what was wrong with our economic and social system for the first forty years of our modern democracy. All Chavez has done is to intensify all of the errors of the past, adding some of his naive economic and social theories. Structurally things are worse, so much worse, that after a five fold increase in oil prices in the eight Chavez years, people’s standard of living is simply back to where they started in 1998, except for a small group way at the bottom and another one way at the top.

Unless oil goes up, way up, things will not get any better in the next six years, least of all with yesterday’s implied mandate, which Chavez will interpret as the need to intensify what he calls his revolution.

Back tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep

December 4, 2006

The Devil’s Excrement will come back sometime tomorrow after a good night’s sleep. Ideas, ideals and principles can never be compromised. It has been a long and confusing day. If Rosales says he lost, he has seen the numbers, I believe it and accept it. I still wonder about the abstention levels I was called about at 1 PM this afternoon by his projections team and how they were reduced so fast.

I think that Venezuelans made the wrong choice today and that they will unfortunately see the results of that bad choice sometime very soon. However democracy is indeed the rule of the majority, and I am definitely in the minority.

I still say I would prefer a Government without uniforms, without guns, with lots of compassion, with belief in the power of knowledge, education, a free mind, investment, with respect for everyone not for just some, a Government for all 26 million Venezuelans, an honest Government, a Government that cares when people are killed or robbed, a Government that would call on the best and not only the trusted to solve problems.

I don’t believe Hugo Chavez represents any of this and tomorrow I will begin chronicling his next six years, for as long as I can.

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