Archive for February 15th, 2009

Let the rumors begin…

February 15, 2009

8:47 PM Well, the best plans don’t work, my new blog is not working, I can’t access the editor, hope it comes back. In any cae the Government is breaking the law by having Ministers appear on the official TV station saying the SI won. Nobody stops them, we are in a lawless country. My good sources say the NO won by 5%, but don’t believe anything until the CNE announces it.

7:20 Cabinet members appear on TV celebrating the victory, Globovision cuts them off, but Government TV station broadcasts it.

6:00 PM. Rumors have begun and as expected the Si supporters say the Si won by six points and the No by four points. Despite the fact that it is illegal for exit polls or results to be broadcast, Minister of Finance Ali Rodriguez said on TV the trend towards the Si vote was irreversible. Had he been opposition, he would have been jailed by now, but since he is pro-Chavez it is ok for him to say whatever he wants. Reportedly, the student computer center where the students gather the results was raided by the intelligence police.

Some pictures from this morning around Caracas

February 15, 2009

crossuno1

dos1tres1

On the left, I tried to take a picture of this guy voting with the wooden cross behind him, but when I was about to take it the guard said I could not, I did anyway, but the guy had moved. I vote in a Catholic school, thus the cross. You can interpret it either way, the cross will protect the vote or we will be crucified.

The second picture is from a voting center in the highly populated area of Los Dos Caminos, a middle to lower middle class area.

The third picture on is a voting center off the Redoma de Petare in the extreme East of Caracas. In the fourth one, a voting center in Montecristo a lower middle class area. (I clearly have problems arranging the pictures and the text in this new software)

I will report later today as needed, I think it is going to be a long night with polls closing at 6 PM.

Voting proceeding smoothly, abstention seems high

February 15, 2009

I voted this morning without much of a wait, took my mother and waited for her and then voted and took her home.

As I was going in a girl in front of me had a University sweater from Simon Bolivar University, yellow in color, said USB in the back and front and had the slogan of the University. The National Guardsman told her she could not go in wearing it because it was propaganda. She complained that it was only her university’s logo and a higher ranking guardsman came out and told her she had to take it off to go in. She had a t-shirt under it and took it off. What was funny was that by the end of her vote she was carrying around her waist and you could see the logos any way. I guess being a university student has become a no no, you are subversive, opposition, oligarch and enemy of the State.

The second problem I saw firsthand is that the voting machines are not programmed properly. When you press on your choice, a check mark appears. But, for example, my mother kept her finger on her choice (guess?) and the check would appear and disappear. When she first removed her finger, the check was not there and she had to press again. This caused problems and those that pressed “VOTE” without the check present their vote was void and there was no going back. However, major Chavista political figures that had this happened to them, like Tarek William Saab and Aristobulo Isturiz, were allowed to vote twice in another sign of Government advantage.

In my polling table there were 520 voters, of which 182 had voted by noon, which is a sign of high abstention. In that table, 5 people (1%) had already voted void because of this problem and were not allowed to vote twice.

I went around the city and saw no lines anywhere, the procedure is simple, but only in 2007 have there been no lines like this.

Venezuelans set to vote on a wholly illegal referendum, but does it really matter?

February 15, 2009

Venezuelans are spending a non-alcoholic Valentine’s day (as required by the electoral law) prior to tomorrows wholly illegal referendum to amend the Venezuelan Constitution, so that Chavez can run for President again in 2012. (And again and again!)

Illegal for too many reasons. From the fact that this was already voted on (Is he a democrat when he does not abide by the voter’s desires?), that a referendum can not take place until after two years after the last one (which was on Dec. 2nd. 2007), or because the question is worded in such a fashion that it deceives voters and finally, because the whole State and its money has been manipulated to promote Chavez’ SI vote.

But Chavez’ revolution is showing increasing signs that it has by now lost all of its scruples, as it lies, intimidates and even twist facts to fit Chavez’ views and needs.

The Government has carried out an overwhelming campaign on all fronts, outspending the opposition by a factor of 7 to 8 (even on the Internet!), using all of the Government’s resources and yes, intimidating and lying to the people about the meaning of the outcome tomorrow.

To me, the most significant impact of this vote may be that for the last two months, the Venezuelan Government has ignored the crisis that is about to hit us in the face, devoting itself completely to the promotion of the Si vote to perpetuate Chavez in power. Because not only have no decisions been made, but the last two months have been spent insuring that the voters don’t feel any sign of the crisis.

But in the end tomorrow’s outcome may not be that relevant anyway. If oil prices continue at current levels and Chavez continues managing the economy with amateurs, his popularity may drop to such low levels that 2012 may seem far away even to the autocrat himself when things get really bad and much higher inflation and shortages hit the people. And  no matter which side wins, Chavez’ international reputation, or what was left of it, has been further damaged by his obsessive abuse of power and his undemocratic ways. Today’s New York Times Editorial is a clear sign that Chavez can no longer fool people into thinking he is a democrat or is even trying to do the best for the people. How times change! And how Daniel says, I certainly feel bloggers have contributed to changing international minds and beating Chavez’ huge resources on international lobbying just with our time and dedication.

And we are now here, ready to vote and sober, and I am sure you all want me to say what I think may happen.

Polls have been rather confusing in the last two months. As Chavez proposed the referendum, all major and reliable pollsters indicated the NO was way ahead. However, withing four weeks and without anything major happening, the SI had recovered significantly, closing the gap in most polls. This has been due mostly the the intense pro-SI campaign by the Government and its focus on the undecided, painting the race between Chavez and a faceless opposition that is about to take everything away from them.

At that point, after the gap narrowed, pollsters that have been rather consistent in prior elections, began to diverge. As of today, of what I consider to be the reliable pollsters, there are differences of as much as 12 percentage points in their final predictions.

Pollsters themselves indicate that there are some strange things in the data. All of them register levels of commitment by the voters that have never been seen in any Venezuelan election and least of all on a referendum, which typically turn off the voters on both sides. Running at 15% on average, abstention may be the key into understanding the final result.

Because in the end, it was Chavista abstention that gave the opposition its victory in the 2007 Constitutional referendum, as three million voters that had cast their ballot for the President in 2006, decided to stay home. The intense campaign of the last two months and the organization of tomorrow’s vote is all focused in guaranteeing that this may not happen again.

Opposition optimists want to interpret the differences in the polls on fear, but pollsters think that this fear may be reflected in who is going to vote rather than how they will vote.

And the Government has loaded the dice to insure abstention is as low as possible. Despite the fact that the law says that voting should end at 4 PM if nobody is in line, the CNE unilaterally decided to bypass it, changing it to 6 PM. This guarantees that if exit polls indicate the pro-Si vote is on the low side of things, the Chavista machinery can go and get the voters at their homes and bring them in.

Up to about ten days ago, I was thinking that the No would win, believing that the violence and intimidation would work against Chavez in the last few days. But after seeing the internal numbers of some of the polls, I have changed my mind. In 2007, Chavez approval rating was down, it is up between 8 to 10 points from that level among voters, even if they say they will vote No tomorrow. That number, combined with the resources of the Government and my belief that there is no major  “hidden” or “fear” vote lead me to conclude that the Si is going to win. Only huge abstention levels or Chavismo blowing the drive to get voters out (like it blew the Si march on Thursday) could turn the tide against Chavez.

Sorry to rain on your parade, that’s the way I see it, even if my “feelings” tell me otherwise.

I will, of course, be reporting during the day, will make my usual spin through the city as soon as I finish voting. I will visit the same centers I did in 2006, 2007 and 2008 which will give us some sense of abstention levels to see if I blew my prediction (Hope I did!). I do hope that lines will be smaller than in the regional elections when it took me all day to take my mother to vote and return for my own. I will update both blogs, but the new version (wordpress) appears much faster than the old version (Radio Userland or Salon.com).

But in the end, this all may be a waste of time even for Chavez. If running the country absorbed his time and effort like elections and referenda do, maybe he will actually have some more accomplishments to show in the last ten years and would not even have to waste so much money and effort on promoting his indefinite reelection.

Not your usual democratic state: Intolerance in Venezuela always goes against the opposition

February 15, 2009

We have seen weeks of abuse of power as Chavez and his Government have overwhelmed the media and the country with advertising in favor of the SI vote on Sunday’s referendum. This is not new, we have seen it before but never of the magnitude of the last six weeks.

But what is particularly bothersome (and irksome) is how intolerance against the actions of the opposition have become outright discrimination and the slightest excuse is used to create obstacles in not only and unfair way, but clearly undemocratic and in violation of people’s rights:

  • This week, the municipal Government of the Libertador District denied the opposition students permits for two marches in favor of the No vote on the referendum. Marches that favor the Government’s side are never banned or their path corrected, only the opposition’s. But what is worse is the conflict of interest whereby the mayor of the Liberatodor Municipality happens to be Chavez’ Head of campaign in favor of the SI vote Jorge Rodriguez. Rodrigues was Head of the Electoral Board before becoming Vice-Presdient of the country in that nothing-is-a-conflict-of-interest attitude that Chavismo has. Rodriguez was elected Mayor in Novemeber but ahs devoted all of his time since then to his current resposibility of making the SI win tomorrow.
  • A concert by singer Soledad Bravo, “A chant for love” which was supposed to take place today (Valentine’s Day) at Central University was canceled at the request of the union of that University which argued that given that it was an “opposition” concert, this created the possibility that there could be riots (for love?). Of course, if the union says no, that’s it as the workers will not show up.
  • And then of course, Spanish Deputy Luis Herrero was kidnapped and put on an airplane for saying that whiel he was not promoting a Yes or No vote, people were being threatened and you can only vote in freedom. He then said, and this irked the Government: ” Never vote led by the fear that in a premeditated way a dictator is trying to translate into the spirit of the people”. Of course, when Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega and Rafael Correa come and support Chavzea nd particiapte in an election rally, it is fine, but when a Deputy that can see clearly that Venezuela is no longer a democracy speaks, he is “insulting the dignity of the country”. The President of the EuropeanHans-Gert Pottering Parliament called the expulsion “unacceptable” and a disdain towards democratic institutions.
  • And then of course, the members of the Electoral Board (CNE) continue acting as Government agents in overt fashion, it was actually the Head of the CNE that ordered the deportation of the Spanish Deputy and another member of the CNE “challenged” the opposition to give an opinion about what the Deputy said. As if the opposition did not recognize Chavez’ dictatorial tendencies. Of course, Chavez came out and citicized the Deputy insulting him in his customary fashion.
  • And then, of course, Lech Walesa never came to Venezuela despite denials by the Government that it was not stopping him from coming, but it is now twice that the Polish leader has been unable to come due to the intimiadtion of the Veneuzelan Government.
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