El Sur
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South American Politics and Government

Thursday, October 31, 2002
Altamira update: President Hugo Chávez continues to be pressed hard by the surprising success of the military officers' demonstration in the Plaza Altamira. Consider the first two paragraphs of this story from
Yahoo! News - AP:
- It's the only "rebel territory" in Latin America featuring couples walking dogs and baby strollers, young professionals and grandmothers stretching out in lawn chairs and cheerleaders and folk dancers keeping the crowd upbeat.

Yet President Hugo Chavez's government accuses the festive gathering at Caracas' tree-lined Altamira plaza — Latin America's only middle-class led uprising — of being a dangerous threat to the region's stability.
In fact, the story says, Caracas is now physically divided according to politics. If the Altamira neighborhood is opposition territory, central Caracas belongs to the Chavistas.
"They (Chavez supporters) can't come here, but we can't go to downtown Caracas," said Carmen Campagna, an anti-Chavez activist who has attended the Altamira camp-out daily.
One more item from the story: Despite meeting personally with both President Chávez and the military dissidents' leader, General Enrique Medina Gómez, as well as others from the political opposition, OAS General Secretary César Gaviria appears clueless. He is quoted as saying
"The differences just don't appear big enough to justify further confrontation."
Although Gaviria may not see anything "big," the Chávez government certainly does. A second Yahoo! News - AP story reports that the government has offered to negotiate with the opposition, even over a referendum. Chávez has never been willing to discuss holding any sort of election before August 2003, when the Constitution provides for a recall referendum. Even now, he has not conceded the possibility of an early election, leaving that to his vice president, José Vicente Rangel, and others. Chávez himself continues to issue threats:
"If these minorities, with a lot of economic and media power, try to sabotage Venezuela's path and Venezuela's economy, or threaten the peace, the government won't hesitate to take action," he told an assembly of pro-government union leaders.
Even Gaviria seems to be focusing on an early election.
"This has gotten to the point where the only solution is in elections," Gaviria told foreign reporters Wednesday. "There must be a general recognition that the country must find an electoral solution. If the solution is undemocratic, polarization will sharpen."

posted by Richard 8:47 AM
. . .
Peronist split:
Bloomberg.com says the Peronist bloc in Argentina's National Assembly has split over a primary date. Really, the split is over the candidacy of former President Carlos Menem, who wants as early a primary as possible. Menem and current President Eduardo Duhalde are now mortal enemies. When Duhalde first called early elections the primary was to be in November. Now they are fighting over December and January dates.

posted by Richard 8:45 AM
. . .
Wednesday, October 30, 2002
Dissent legitimized III? An article in the
El Nacional makes it clear that, objectively, as the Leninists used to say, OAS Secretary General César Gaviria is working for President Hugo Chávez and against the military officers engaged in "legitimate disobedience."
The secretary general of the OAS hopes that the military men who are in the Plaza Francia reflect and put an end to the episode. He worries about the symbolism that the pronouncement of the rebel officers entails.
El secretario general de la OEA espera que los militares que están en la plaza Francia reflexionen y pongan fin a ese episodio. Le preocupa el simbolismo que entraña el pronunciamiento de los oficiales rebeldes.
The response of General Enrique Medina Gómez, leader of the now more than 70 dissident officers, was that the fight will continue.
"We stay in this fight until there is a solution to the political and institutional crisis in Venezuela,"he confirmed.
“Nos mantendremos en esta lucha hasta tanto haya una solución a la crisis política e institucional en Venezuela”, ratificó.
Medina Gómez also said he was grateful for the opportunity to personally explain the purposes of the demonstration to the OAS envoy, because, in his judgement, the government was campaigning to have the dissident officers tarred with the epithet "coupsters" ("golpistas").

posted by Richard 7:54 AM
. . .
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
Dissent legitimized II? General Enrique Medina Gómez, leader of the 14 dissident officers camped out in the Plaza Altimira, engaged in what they call "legitimate disobedience" of the government, said that "the meeting that he had today with the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), César Gaviria, confers 'international recognition' on the group" (" el encuentro que sostuvo hoy con el secretario general de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA), César Gaviria, otorgó 'reconocimiento internacional' al grupo "), reports
El Universal

Medina Gómez told the paper that he made it clear to Gaviria that the officers "are not 'coup plotters' but 'institutional military men who are making use of a right that the Constitution confers'" ("no son 'golpistas' sino 'militares institucionales que hacen uso de un derecho que nos otorga la Constitució'").
"We are disarmed citizens, acting in accord with a right attached to the Constitution, that we don' want violence. The attitude is pacific and without arms," he maintained.
''Somos ciudadanos desarmados, actuando apegados a derecho de acuerdo a la Constitución, que no queremos violencia. La actitud es pacífica y sin armas'', sostuvo.
According to Medina Gómez, the secretary general "raised the possibility" ("planteó la posbilidad") of finding a way to quietly get the officers out of the plaza quietly. Medina Gómez was having nothing of that, not surprisingly, since their withdrawl would serve Chávez's interest, not theirs. Since Gaviria has to know who that outcome would benefit, his allegiance ought to be clear to the opposition now. Nevertheless, whater his intent, by meeting with a officers' representative, Gaviria has granted them a certain legitimacy.

Before the October 10 and October 21 general strikes/lockouts, certain of the action's organizers--principally the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV) union--were talking about extending the action indefinitely. They didn't--fortunately for them. It couldn't have lasted; the burden on already hard-pressed Venezuelans would have been too much. The Plaza Altimira action, which began on October 22, the day after the second lockout/strike, is a far superior tactic. Unlike the proposed general strike, it is sustainable, which makes it a bigger threat to the Chávez government than the seemingly more powerful strike would have been.

Today's photos from Yahoo! News are available here, here,and here.

The Financial Times has a story on the situation. The article notices a "slow but steady accumulation of rebel military officers" taking part in the protest, now about 60 in addition to the original 14.

posted by Richard 2:38 PM
. . .
Dissent legitimized? César Gaviria, the secretary general of the Organization of American States appears to have legitimized the 14 unarmed, high-ranking military officers, who have declared themselves in "legitimate disobedience" of the government, under sections 333 and 350 the constitution, and have been camped out in the Plaza Altimira with thousands of supporters for a week. Gaviria is visiting Venezuela to mediate between the government and the opposition. So far, he has met with President Hugo Chávez and Venezuela's Catholic hierarchy. (A Yahoo! News photo of Gaviria's meeting with Baltazar Porras of the Episcopal Confederation in Caracas is available

But meeting with the officers is critical. If he meets with them he recognizes them as part of the opposition and effectively legitimizes them. If he refuses to see them, he effectively lets the government choose its opposition, which means he isn't meeting with the opposition at all, but rather some government-approved, "official opposition."

A story in El Nacional suggests that the opposition understands the importance of such a meeting, and has succeeded in getting it.
He (Gaviria) declared that his principal objective is to achieve a meeting between the government and the opposition to advance along the road of dialog, work that he hopes will proceed satisfactorily.
Aclaró que su principal objetivo es lograr propiciar un encuentro entre el Gobierno y la oposición para poder avanzar en el camino del diálogo, tarea que espera conseguir satisfactoriamente.
Having met with Chávez and the bishops, the paper says:
It is agreed that this afternoon the secretary general of the OAS will keep an appointment with the Democratic Coordinator in which will participate the dissident military officers who made the call for disobedience from the Plaza Altamira last week.

According to the representative of the opppsition alliance, Timoteo Zambrano, who specified in an interview with a local broadcasting station that: those who have a political status in front of the OAS itself, are the government for one part and the Democratic Coordinator for the other and he (Gaviria) was not able to deny that the military men were in this meeting via Coordinator because we made them know that we are supporting what is occurring in Altamira."

El Nacional.com managed to learn that the general Enrique Medina Gómez would represent the officers and will be transferred in a diplomatic car to the place where the meeting is being held.
Está previsto que esta tarde el secretario general de la OEA acuda a una cita con la Coordinadora Democrática en la que participarán los militares disidentes que hicieron el llamado a la desobediencia desde la Plaza Altamira la semana pasada.

Así lo informó el representante de la alianza opositora, Timoteo Zambrano, quien precisó en entrevista con una emisora local que: "los que tiene un estatus político frente a la propia OEA, son el gobierno por una parte y la Coordinadora Democrática por otra y él (Gaviria) no podía negar que los militares estuvieran en esa reunión vía Coordinadora porque le hicimos saber que estamos respaldando lo que está ocurriendo en Altamira".

El Nacional.com pudo que el general Enrique Medina Gómez representaría a los oficiales y sería trasladado en un carro diplomático al lugar donde se celebre el encuentro.

posted by Richard 9:51 AM
. . .
Cautionary commentary: Columnist Myriam Marquez has good advice for Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva and his Workers Party in the
OrlandoSentinel, which she thinks he won't follow:
Unfortunately for Brazil's poor, if history repeats itself, their new president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, will only make them poorer and the corruption he so eloquently campaigns against will only grow.

That's what has happened in Venezuela. Since 1999, Hugo Chavez has led a country rich in oil into a corrupt economic mess, with 2.5 million more poor people today than before his election.
She concludes:
It all depends on Lula. If he's willing to compromise with moderates and conservatives on reforms, if he's able to see the big picture of the benefits of a global economy, then Brazil will thrive. I doubt he has that kind of vision.

posted by Richard 9:16 AM
. . .
Monday, October 28, 2002
Photos: Yahoo! News has photos of the Plaza Altamira protest from today and Sunday,
here, here, here, and here.

posted by Richard 10:35 AM
. . .
Brief, but to the point: Today's Wall Street Journal (international section, no link) contains the following analysis of the Plaza Altamira demonstration that is as pertinent as it is short:
Analysts say what is happening is a radical departure from the traditional coup de etat. The rebellious military has seized upon a section of Mr. Chávez's made to order 1999 constitution that gives citizens, including soldiers, the right to refuse to recognize a government that they claim violates democratic principals of human rights. "To have disarmed solidiers, protected by civilians, using the constitution to call for the ouster of a government is absolutely unheard of," says Caracas polster Luís Vicente León.
There is a tendency in the First World to throw all of South America into the category Third World, without much distinction. The subtilty and intelligence the Venezuelan opposition is showing in this demonstration, and the caution the Chávez government is showing in response, both betray non-Third-World levels of political sophistication and violence avoidance.

As if to underline the point, today's
El Nacional, on the Minuto a Minuto update page, contains this brief note:
The new slogan of those gathered in the Plaza Francia is "OAS, OAS, come so you can see," as a way to invite the secretary of the Organization of American States, César Gaviria, who already is in the country, to visit the plaza and, according to the demonstrators, verify that this is a democratic demonstration, where military men do not use arms.

"We want the OAS to know that our only arms are words," said the General of Brigade Julio Lara Guzmán in a discourse given Sunday night in the Plaza Francia.
La nueva consigna de los congregados en la plaza Francia es "OEA, OEA venga pa' que vea", como una vía para invitar al secretario general de la Organización de Estados Americanos César Gaviria, quien ya se encuentra en el país, a visitar la plaza y -según los manifestantes- constate él mismo que esa es una manifestación democrática, donde los militares no hacen uso de las armas.

"Queremos que la OEA sepa que nuestra única arma es la palabra", expresó el general de brigada Julio Lara Guzmán en un discurso dado la noche de este domingo en la plaza Francia.
Incidentally, it is widely believed that Hugo Chávez had sections 333 and 350--the sections that authorize "legitimate disobedience" and that the Plaza Altamira demonstrators are citing--inserted into the Constitution to provide him with after-the-fact justification for his own, failed 1992 coup.

posted by Richard 5:52 AM
. . .
Sunday, October 27, 2002
Da Silva wins: As expected, Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva won Brazil's run-off election yesterday, with 63 per cent of the vote.
Bloomberg.com, among many sources, has a report.

posted by Richard 12:59 PM
. . .
Saturday, October 26, 2002
Climbdown?: Is the government backing off a confrontation with demonstrators in the Plaza Altamira in Caracas? Perhaps.

El Universal reports that Fiscal General (Attorney General) Isaías Rodríguez has expressed disagreement with the decision of Judge León Raúl Villanueva to order the detention of the 14 high-ranking military officers (and 29 others) who have been camping in the plaza since early last week and have declared themselves in "legitimate disobedience" of the government. Rodríguez told Globovisión television that intends to appeal the decision on Monday. He also said that he is investigating the officers, but that he has not sought any order depriving anyone of their liberty.

Meanwhile, according to another item in El Universal, Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel denied that the judge had acted on the request of the government.
"I ought to say that we do not manipulate judges. Moreover, we consider that the judge does not have jurisdiction," he indicated.
"Debo decir que no manipulamos jueces. Además, consideramos que el juez no tiene competencia", señaló.
Chavista officialdom--though not Chávez himself, who keeps talking about coups--appears to be backing away from a confrontation. This isn't suprising, since the alternative is to send troops into a crowded square to arrest military officers who are surrounded and being protected by civilians. Could they find officers willing and reliable enough to do this? It was Chávez's order to launch Plan Avila that led to the military rebellion in April. Would the troops keep following orders, once they'd begun wading into plaza full of civilians? The cost of failure would be very high. And, everything would be on TV, beamed around the world.

posted by Richard 8:57 PM
. . .
Confrontation: Yesterday, Judge León Villanueva ordered 43 military men and civilians who have spoken in favor of the "military insurrection" in the plaza be arrested. An item from
Bloomberg.com contains the following quote that neatly sums up the polarization and stalemate:
"You're raising the stakes in the game," said Janet Kelly, a public policy professor at Venezuela's Instituto de Estudios Superiores. "The officers have no intention of going to court, and the government doesn't plan to go to the plaza."

posted by Richard 4:41 PM
. . .
Recall referendum II: If President Hugo Chávez does agree to permit an early recall election, what are the terms and what would the opposition need to do to defeat him?

According to a paper, "A Quick Look at Constitutional Reforms in Latin-America," by Ricardo Gil Lavedra, and available from
Yale Law Web (see page 8), in Venezuela,
The terms of office of all popularly elected positions and posts may be subject to revocation if a number not inferior to twenty per cent of the electors request a referendum. The public official is dismissed if a number of electors equal to the number that elected him decide so, provided that at least twenty five per cent of the electoral register participates in the vote.
In the July 2000 Presidential election there were, according to IFES:
Registered voters: 11,681,645
Votes cast: 6,600,196 (56.50% of registered voters)
These votes were distributed as follows:
Hugo Chavez, Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR): 3,757,773 or 56.93%
FranciscoArias Cardenas Independent Candidate: 2,359,459 or 35.75%
Claudio Fermin, National Encounter (EN): 171,346 or 2.60%
IFES (The International Foundation for Election Systems) is, according to its website, a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)(3) foundation dedicated to providing assistance in monitoring, supporting, and strengthening the mechanics of the election process around the world.

Accordingly, some 1.1 million signatures of registered voters are required to call a recall referendum. Opponents would have obtain more than 3.7 million votes to recall Chávez.

posted by Richard 9:59 AM
. . .
Recall referendum I: A confrontation looms early next week over the dissident officers camped out in the Plaza Altamira in Caracas. This will likely come when police attempt to enforce the warrant calling for the arrest of 43 people, including the 14 high-ranking officers.

There does appear to still be some hope that both sides will come to see that they can defuse the immediate crisis by agreeing to a recall referendum at some date in the relatively near future. Such agreement could provide both sides with the excuse they need to back awat from immediate confrontation, without appearing to surrender.

Opposition leaders continue gathering signatures for a recall referendum. They need 1.1 million and intend to gather 2 million to be delivered to election officials on November 4. From the government side, an item in yesterday's edition of
El Mundo suggests that President Hugo Chávez has begun considering an earlier date:
President Chávez and government-allied deputies are giving positive signals about a possible referendum, according to political analysts.
El Presidente Chávez y diputados oficialistas estarían dando buenas señales sobre un posible refrendo, según el analistas políticos.
It is not clear whether this reflects the Chavistas' true intentions or is some sort of strategem related to the Plaza Altamira situation. Chávez has always maintained no such referendum can be held before August 2003. But, time flies. It could simply be that Chávez and his political advisors have concluded that there is daily less difference between an August vote and an early one. It could also simply be that they have noticed his support declining as conditions deteriorate, meaning that, for Chávez, an earlier election is a better election.

In any case, welcomed by opponents, as for example, Colonel Jorge Garrido, a leader of the Union Para el Progreso party and, in 2000, campaign aide to Chávez's opponent (and former friend), then Zulia State Governor Francisco Arias Cardenas:
For Garrido, the fact that President Chávez has admitted publicly that the consultative referendum is feasible and that it is only left to the opposition to work to collect the signagures for its convocation, is a very positive signal, despite the fact that he classified as "show" the concentration that has occurred in Altamira since last Tuesday.

"What is most important in this pronouncement of our brothers in arms is that it is in the line of what Coordinadora Democrática is aksing, that is to go to elections in order that the people can peacefully and democratically participate in the fundamental decisions in order to find the roads that solve the political crisis."
Para Garrido, el hecho de que el presidente Chávez haya admitido públicamente que el referendo consultivo es factible y que a la oposición sólo le queda la tarea de recolectar las firmas para su convocatoria, es una señal muy positiva, pese a que calificó como ?show? la concentración que se realiza en Altamira desde el pasado martes.

"Lo más importante en este pronunciamiento de nuestros compañeros de armas es que está en la línea de lo que viene solicitando la Coordinadora Democrática, que es ir a elecciones para que el pueblo participe pacífica y democráticamente en las decisiones fundamentales para conseguir los caminos que solucionen la crisis política."

posted by Richard 6:04 AM
. . .
Friday, October 25, 2002
Counterstrike: Officialdom is moving against the 14 high-ranking military officers and their supporters in the Plaza Altamira in Caracas.

El Nacional and El Universal report that Judge León Villanueva ordered 43 military men and civilians who have spoken in favor of the "military insurrection" in the plaza be arrested. The story says the arrests could be made at the beginning of next week.

Confrontation can be expected, since the delay in making the arrests will give supporters of the Altamira demonstrators time to organize against them.

2. The leader of the 14 officers who began the Altamira demonstration, General Enrique Medina Gomez challenged the judicial order, according to another story in El Nacional, saying "they are coming to find us, we are waiting for them" ("los vengan a buscar, los estamos esperando").

3. The government received important external support in iits conflict with the dissident military officers, according to still another story in El Nacional. The InterAmerican Human Rights Commission (La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos) of the Organization of American States declared the organized insubordination of the military officers illegitimate and said it puts at risk the stability of the country's institutions. For their part the officers received the support of the country's teachers federation and the Metropolitan Caracas city council.

4. El Mundo reports that the National Telecommunications Commission has opened an investigation into the television transmission of video in which the military officers called for civil disobedience. The television stations could be sanctioned "for transmitting messages of rebellion," according to the director general of the commission, Jesse Chacón.

5. President Hugo Chávez again today raised the spectre of a military coup, reports El Universal.
"And They should not mistake themselves that if they endeavor to mount a coup de etat, if they endeavor to attack the institutions with arms, we will respond to them with arms," he reiterated that, the same as the 11th of April , he is not going to resign.
''Y que no se equivoquen si es que pretenden dar otro golpe de estado, si es que pretenden arremeter contra las instituciones por la vía armada, les responderemos por la vía armada'', reiteró al tiempo que aseguró que, al igual que el 11 de abril, no va a renunciar.
He called on the people to be "alert to defend the Venezuelan democracy, the Venezuelan constitution." "If we must all go out another time, to take every street in Venezuela, not one plaza but all the plazas a Venezuela...the women, the men, those who have dignity...all, because it is about the life of all.
Llamó al pueblo a que estén ''alerta para defender la democracia venezolana, la constitución venezolana''. ''Si tenemos que salir otra vez todos, a tomar todas la calles de Venezuela, no una plaza sino todas las plazas de Venezuela (....) las mujeres, los hombres, los que tenemos dignidad (...) todos, porque se trata de la vida de todos''.
Finally, there is still no word about the three men who were arrested last Saturday for allegedly trying to shoot down the presidential plane as Hugo Chávez attempted to return to Caracas from a European trip (see El Sur).

posted by Richard 8:44 PM
. . .
"Fight to the finish": A
Stratfor.com report, dated October 23, says that support for the generals appears to be growing. The private strategic forecasting company adds that it's still to early to predict the outcome of the officers demonstration.

Stratfor's analysis notes that approximately 200 Venezuelan military officers have declared their support, as, to varying degrees have leaders of the Justice First Party, the Democratic Coordinator (the ongoing protests umbrella group) and the Venezuelan Labor Confederation. However, Stratfor's analysis says it is not at all clear that either the protestors or Hugo Chávez have the ability to break the stalemate.

Stratfor's analysts remain pessimistic about the possibility of a peaceful outcome.
"The majority opinion among the sectors which historically have had the greatest weight in Venezuela is that this is a fight to the finish," an opposition source told Stratfor, before adding that in his view, this latest FAN rebellion likely would fail.

His forecast may prove accurate. But the situation in Venezuela -- especially inside the military bases -- remains highly fluid, according to Stratfor sources within the FAN who report that discontent is bubbling at several bases, despite what was described as "an unprecedented lockdown."

Sources at Fort Tiuna in Caracas, and at army and air force bases in Maracay and Valencia, report that key roads and air strips have been blocked with automobiles, buses and trucks. There also have been several unconfirmed reports from sources in Caracas of angry verbal confrontations at several bases between FAN officers who support and oppose the Chavez regime. However, no violent incidents have been reported yet.

"No one on either side in this confrontation wants to be the first to open fire, because it could spark a bloodbath within the armed forces," a FAN source told Stratfor. "The biggest worry senior officers on both sides presently have is that tempers could explode out of control among lower-ranking officers. If this happens, we could see a wave of anarchic violence flaring up in different parts of the country."
Stratfor.com provides intelligence analysis on a subscription basis.

posted by Richard 7:43 PM
. . .
Ending moral hazard: "Practically speaking, he's already on the job," says Mary Anastasia O'Grady, of Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, almost certain to be elected President of Brazil in an October 27 run-off election. He's "flirting with the International Monetary Fund, pledging compliance with the conditions it attached to loans and eyeing the next tranche in the promised $30 billion loan package." But that's about it for "Lula" and Brazil in this week's Americas column in today's Wall Street Journal (no link; they never put this on-line), because the real subject of O'Grady's column is lending by multilateral institutions like the IMF and what happens when a sovereign borrower can't pay. This is a particularly pertinent issue for Latin America, because major Latin American countries work well enough to tempt lenders (unlike most of Africa), but poorly enough to be consistently flirting with default (unlike most of Asia).

O'Grady sees this as a big problem for people in borrowing and lending countries alike.

For the public in borrowing countries:
Brazil is yet another illustration of why IMF bailouts to emerging market governments are harmful to the most vulnerable and most advangateous to the powerful. No one wants to see a painful default in Brazil. Yet keeping the country on IMF life-support while its leadership rejects the tough restructuring decisions required to achieve growth is cruel to Brazilians who aspire to a better life.
For the public in lending countries:
In a world of open capital markets, it is also prohibitively expensive for the G-7 to keep trying to stave off defaults around the globe. As a result a rising number of economists and policy makers are coming to the conclusion that the practice of bailing out countries whose debt loads have become unsustainable is itself unsustainable.
The only beneficiaries of this system, O'Grady suggests are bond dealers and buyers, who obtain interest rates that reflect the risk of lending to financially shaky countries, without actually accepting that risk, there being an implicit IMF bailout guaranteed. The implied bailout, O'Grady says, tempts borrowing countries and private lenders alike to make deals neither would make without such a guarantee, a temptation known as "moral hazard." So, she says, there's a search on for better ways of dealing with terminally bad loans.

What concerns O'Grady is that the mechanism for dealing with bad loans, whatever it is, ensures that loan conditions and prices reflect real risk, eliminating moral hazard. She brings up and and weighs several proposals, notably a Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism that the IMF has proposed and in which it would be involved. O'Grady concludes that IMF involvement reflects less necessity than a "bureaucracy bent on self-preservation," and that a market solution would be desirable.
Step one in forcing players to act responsibly then is for leading donor governments to issue a cease and desist order to the IMF, ending its practive of discretonary lending. This would force lenders to do more due diligence. It would force borrowers to do what they should to avoid default and would encourage them to create contingency plans in the event of a default that would satisfy their own needs but also assure lenders that the process would be fair. In short, once the market is convinced that large bailout packages are extinct, it will have an incentive to adapt.
Benefiting everyone except bond salesmen and populist politicians.

posted by Richard 6:00 AM
. . .
Thursday, October 24, 2002
Cuban dissident wins award: Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas has been awarded the Sakharov Prize, which is given annually to an internationally recognized human rights leader. The
Miami Herald has a report. Payá headed up the Varela Project, which a petition campaign for democratic change in Castro's island prison. The prize, conferred by the European Union, will be given Payá at a ceremony in Paris on December 18, if he is allowed to leave Cuba.
"If they don't give him the visa, it will highlight the lack of democracy in Cuba,"
said Graham Watson, leader of the Liberal Group in the European parliament.

The Varela project has been noted in El Sur, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

posted by Richard 12:51 PM
. . .
Update: The expressions of support for the 14 high-ranking, dissident military officers in the plaza Francia de Altamira "have not stopped" (no han cesado), reports
El Mundo. Among the developments:

El Nacional reports that the officers have been joined by 15 soldiers from a detachment located at Cumaná (state of Sucre, on the coast of eastern Venezuela).
Although the rain fell lightly over the so-called "liberated territory," the number of demonstrators continued increasing in the plaza and among the slogans and shouts of protest, they asked the support of the active military that are in disagreement with the government.
Aunque la lluvia cae ligeramente sobre el llamado "territorio liberado", el número de manifestantes sigue creciendo en la plaza y, entre consignas y gritos de protesta, piden el respaldo de los militares activos que estén desacuerdo con el Gobierno.
El Nacional reports that, even as it supports the dissident militaries' incampment in the plaza, the Justice First Party is continuing to collect signatures looking toward a referendum.
The representatives of this party, who were found in the plaza, explained that "the only requisite necessary to be able to sign the petitions is to be of the age of majority. and to be conscious of the fact that the only way to resolve the (country's) problems is taking Chávez out."
Los representantes de este partido, que se encuentran en la plaza explicaron que”el único requisito necesario para poder firmar las formas es ser mayor de edad. y estar conscientes de que la única forma de resolver los problemas es sacando a Chávez”.
Yahoo! News has a photo of Venezuelans signing a petition, here.

Bloomberg.com reports that the Venezuelan government has postponed a meeting of the G-15 developing countries, scheduled to be held on the Venezualan resort island of Margarita. The meeting was postponed once before, in July, when it coincided closely with a large opposition demonstration. The story is front page news in today's El Mundo.

posted by Richard 8:52 AM
. . .
Wednesday, October 23, 2002
Photos: Yahoo! News has photos of the officers' demonstration,
here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

posted by Richard 8:42 AM
. . .
Another view:
Bloomberg.com quotes Vitali Meschoulam, a New York-based analyst with political risk consultancy Eurasia Group on the generals' demonstration:
"It's the ultimate provocation. They're trying to provoke Chavez into doing something stupid. Chavez is going to be left without any real alternative. He's going to have to arrest these people because what they did was illegal...

"You're talking about 14 people who are basically unemployed now and the only way they can get their jobs back is with a regime change or they have no future in Venezuela...."

posted by Richard 8:23 AM
. . .
Officers' sit-in: 14 high ranking military officers, with thousands of civilian supporters, have taken over the plaza Francia de Altamira, in a middle-class Caracas neighborhood, and declared it "liberated territory," reports
El Nacional. The officers claim to have invoked articles 333 and 350 of the Constitution, which give Venezuelans the right of "legitimate disobedience," the right to disobey a regime that ''contradicts democratic values, principles and guarantees and infringes human rights.'' They assert that they will not leave the until plaza until President Hugo Chávez agrees to resign.

The officers are being led by General Enrique Medina Gómez, former commandant of the Third Division of Infantry. With him are Vice Admiral Héctor Ramírez Pérez, National Guard generals Carlos Alfonzo Martínez, Felipe Rodríguez, and Edgar Bolívar, Army General José Félix Ruiz, admirals Daniel Comisso y Edgar Morillo; brigadier generals Pedro Pereira and Clinio Rodríguez (Air Force), Oscar Márquez (National Guard), Néstor González González, Rafael Sericia García y Vidal Rigoberto Martínez (Army). The officers, many dismissed for their roles during April 11-14, when Chávez was briefly ousted, include some of the most senior generals and admirals on active service.

The officers issued a communique listing their grievances and demands. They charge the Chávez government with persecuting the church, labor unions, the media, civic organizations, business and opposition political parties. They say that the government has monopolized the state, kidnapped its institutions, ignored the judiciary and violated human rights.
"The people cannot obey a government that has committed crimes against the laws of humanity, like the monstrous case of the Llaguno Bridge (where apparently pro-Chávez snipers shot demonstrators in April) still not resolved, that has unleashed the most brutal corruption about which we know only the most sensational cases, that has tripled poverty in the country, liquidating social programs, breaking promises, that has searched homes in a totally unjustified manner, that has penetrated and politicized the military, seeking its institutional liquidation in order to substitute for it paramilitary forces, such as the Bolivarian Circles," expressed the text read by Medina Gómez.
“El pueblo no puede obedecer a un gobierno que ha cometido crímenes de lesa humanidad, como el monstruoso caso de puente Llaguno aún no resuelto, que ha desencadenado la más brutal corrupción de la cual conocemos sólo los más sonados casos, que ha triplicado la pobreza en el país, liquidando programas sociales, prometiendo sin cumplir, que ha allanado hogares de manera totalmente injustificada, que ha penetrado y politizado a la FAN, buscando su liquidación institucional para sustituirlas por fuerzas paramilitares, como es el caso de los círculos bolivarianos”, se expresa el texto leído por Medina Gómez.
According to the Miami Herald, smaller rallies in support of the officers took place Valencia and Maracaibo, pot-banging demonstrations and car caravans appeared in parts of Caracas, while Chávez supporters converged on the presidential palace, setting off fireworks.
The government's initial response was to play down the events. "The country is totally calm," Vice President José Vicente Rangel told CNN's Spanish-language TV news service. "Absolutely nothing is happening, except for a few military officers, violating their oaths and holding a meeting in a small plaza."

Rangel added that unspecified legal measures would be taken "in the next few hours" against the officers.

"This pronouncement means absolutely nothing," he said. "These are the same coup-plotters from 11 April, and many of them are repudiated by the armed forces."
So far, there has been no movement of troops, reports agree. For example, Yahoo! News - AP quotes Venezuela's vice president as follows:
"We've been in contact with every barracks throughout the country, with every command ... and there is absolutely nothing happening," Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel told The Associated Press. "Every commander totally repudiated these coup plotters who decided to go on an adventure."
One recognized expert on Venezuela believes the officers may be trying to provoke Chávez into a violent response that would force the military to finally take sides against him. Reports Bloomberg.com:
"They are hoping that Chavez falls into the trap," said Janet Kelly, a public policy professor at the Instituto de Estudios Superiores in Caracas.
Other articles in English the following, from ABC News and VOA News.

posted by Richard 7:11 AM
. . .
Tuesday, October 22, 2002
Aftermath: Claiming yesterday's 12-hour work stoppage was a success, the opposition now intends to rely on the ballot box. Carlos Fernández, the president of Fedecámaras, says the opposition is preparing to gather two million signatures to be delivered to the National Electoral Counsel (Consejo Nacional Electoral) during an anti-government march on Nomvember 4, reports
El Universal. That's two weeks away.

Fernández said business groups would only extend the work action if businesses or businessmen came under attack by the government.

One interesting question that remains the day after: What happened to those supposed assassins arrested over the weekend, allegedly trying to bring down the presidential plane?

posted by Richard 12:18 PM
. . .
Monday, October 21, 2002
Which way Venezuela:
El Tiempo, Colombia's leading daily has an interview with Moisés Naim about Chávez and Venezuela. Naim, age 49, is editor of Foreign Policy, the U.S. review of international relations. He was minister of industry and commerce in Venezuela between 1989 and 1990, in the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez. He is interviewed by Luz Maria Sierra, El Tiempo's international editor.
How do you explain what is happening in Venezuela?

It is the result of the historical failure of Venezuelan elites—who have much oil and few ideas—of the irresponsible exploitaton of myths on the part of Hugo Chávez and is the tragedy of a president who lost the opportunity to transform a country that gave him the power to do it.

The guilt is of Chávez or of those that he calls “scrawneys”?

Chávez is the symptom of much more profound problems. Unfortunately he could have been more than a symptom, the future of the country. But now he only remains source of instability and poverty and as a symbol of resentment and of the divisions among Venezuelans.

Where is Venezuela going?

It is going toward a period of prolonged instability that will not depend on whether Hugo Chávez is president or if he leaves.

Why were those who made the coup on April 11 unable to succeed in maintaining themselves in power?

Because they did not understand that what the country is demanding and what is destroying Chávez is the politics of exclusion. To exclude large groups of the society is making it so that Chávez is not able to govern and exclusion is what made it such that those that participated in the coup of April 11 were not able to retain power.

It a civil war coming, a Chavista dictatorship, or a democratic alternative?

I predict that in the next 12 to 24 months there is going to be some kind of electoral event in order to relegitimate or delegitimate the Chávez presidency. Depending on how the question is formulated and how effective the international organizations are in guaranteeing that there is no fraud, it is most probable that a referendum will lead to new elections to elect a new president. If this occurs it is going to be very important the debate about whether to change the constitution in order that the president is elected with two stages. If there is only one stage, as it is today, most probably the opposition will be represented by more than one candidate, which is going to weaken him and to permit Chávez to achieve reelection.

Do you see some person developing among the possible candidates?

There are many. The tragedy in Venezuela is that many people look in the mirror and to see the next president. As parties don’t exist, whichever has an important media bump will come to have a certain visibility and immediately can create himself as a presidential candidate.

Are there some leaders capable of representation?

None have appeared. I have said that “someone cannot be replaced by no one.” This is to say that Chávez must be replaced by someone who must have a name and surname, a path, a proposal to the country, a certain viability. Ideally this someone ought to have the summoning capacity of Chávez, the charisma, the capacity to interpret to the country or certain poor segments that Chávez has had, and the capacity to think large and to lift the hope of the country that Chávez has had.

All that Chávez has had…

The sole difference is that he understands that he is not going to arrive anywhere if he is so pugnacious. He is on bad terms with the church, with the media, with the middle ranks of the military, with the United States, with the Colombians, with the Spanish, with the private sector, unions, teachers, students. Pick a sector and with it Chávez has had a pugnacious and exclusive attitude. It is to be hoped that his successor can have the capacity to communicate in order to inspire and mobilize the country and get it to think grandly another time. It is pathetic that Chávez, with all his worry for the poor, with fabulous oil income and the control absolute of all the instruments of power (the congress, the departments, assemblies, Supreme Court, central bank, of the army) rather what he has done is to increase the poverty as never before we have seen it.

With all this power could Chávez convert himself into a dictator?

He can have this temptation. Nevertheless Chávez is his own worst enemy and simply one must leave it at that and he will continue sinking with his own myopias, resentments, pugnacity and clumsiness.

What do you fear most in Venezuela?

A military dictatorship, of whatever kind.

Do the Bolivarian Circles worry you?

Yes. Some of these are simply groups that meet to see if they extract something from the state, and others are picked, trained, financed and armed to defend the government. They are paramilitaries and a terrible Chávez legacy for the country.

Can the OAS (Organization of American States) can do something?

The solution cannot come from the OAS and the solution cannot come from any external actor. But it can contribute.

Do you believe that Chávez is an alternative to the liberal capitalist plan?

In the entire world there is a very large appetite for an alternative formula to what we have seen up to now. Some time I was asked if Chávez is a relic of the past or a precursor of the future. If he is another populist dictator-military of which we have already seen so much in Latin America or a precursor of tendencies. For one to be a precursor and have a model worthy of imitation, this model ought to have some kind of success.

What will happen with today’s strike/lockout?

Every time there is a stoppage it is promoted as a point of definitive inflection. None of these things alone is going to be a point of inflection, all are parts of a process of great inconvenience, social desperation, where the people no longer know what to do and where there is a government that simply has a hard face to show the world that in Venezuela nothing is happening. Chávez had hundreds of thousands of people in the streets protesting against his government and asking his resignation, and he told Kofi Annan that nothing was happening.
¿Cómo se explica lo que está pasando en Venezuela?
Es el resultado del fracaso histórico de las élites venezolanas –de tener mucho petróleo y pocas ideas–, de la irresponsable explotación de mitos por parte de Hugo Chávez y es la tragedia de un Presidente que perdió la oportunidad de transformar a un país que le dio todo el poder para hacerlo.

¿La culpa es de Chávez o de los que él llama ‘escuálidos’?

Chávez es el síntoma de problemas mucho más profundos. Desgraciadamente él ha podido ser más que síntoma, el futuro del país. Pero ahora solo quedó como una fuente de inestabilidad y pobreza y como el símbolo de resentimiento y de las divisiones de los venezolanos.

¿Para dónde va Venezuela?

Va hacia un período de prolongada inestabilidad que no dependerá de si Hugo Chávez es presidente o si deja de serlo.

¿Por qué quienes trataron de dar el golpe el 11 de abril no lograron mantenerse en el poder?

Porque no entendieron que lo que el país está demandando y lo que está destruyendo a Chávez es la política de exclusión. El excluir a grandes grupos de la sociedad está haciendo que Chávez no pueda gobernar y la exclusión es lo que hizo que los que participaron en el golpe del 11 de abril no pudieran retener el poder.

¿Viene una guerra civil, una dictadura chavista o una alternativa democrática?

Pronostico que en los próximos 12 o 24 meses va a haber algún tipo de episodio electoral para relegitimar o deslegitimar la presidencia de Chávez. Dependiendo de cómo se formule la pregunta y de lo eficaces que sean los organismos internacionales en garantizar que no haya fraude, lo más probable es que un referendo lleve a unas elecciones para elegir a nuevo presidente. Si eso ocurre va a ser muy importante el debate de si se cambia la Constitución para que el presidente se elija con dos vueltas. Pues si es una sola vuelta, como se hace hoy, lo más probable es que la oposición sea representada por más de un candidato, lo cual la va a debilitar y a permitir que Chávez logre ser reelecto.

¿Ve algún personaje de relevo en los posibles candidatos?

Hay muchos. La tragedia que hay en Venezuela es que mucha gente al mirar el espejo ve al mejor próximo presidente. Como no existen partidos, cualquiera que tenga un golpe mediático importante llega a tener una cierta visibilidad e inmediatamente se cree candidato presidencial.

¿Hay algunos líderes que puedan representar?

No han aparecido. Yo he dicho que “alguien no puede ser reemplazado por nadie”. Eso quiere decir que Chávez tiene que ser reemplazado por alguien que tiene que tener un nombre y apellido, una trayectoria, una propuesta al país, una cierta viabilidad. Idealmente ese alguien debe tener la capacidad de convocatoria de Chávez, el carisma, la capacidad de interpretar al país o a ciertos segmentos pobres que ha tenido Chávez, y la capacidad de pensar en grande e ilusionar al país que ha tenido Chávez.

Todo lo ha tenido Chávez...

La única diferencia es que entienda que no va a llegar a ninguna parte si es tan pugnaz. Está peleado con la Iglesia, con los medios, con la mitad de los militares, con E.U., con los colombianos, con los españoles, con el sector privado, sindicatos, maestros, estudiantes... Escoja un sector y con ese Chávez ha tenido una actitud pugnaz y de exclusión. Ojalá su sucesor pueda tener la capacidad de comunicación para inspirar y movilizar al país y ponerlo a pensar en grande otra vez. Es patético que Chávez, con tanta preocupación por los pobres, con unos ingresos petroleros fabulosos y el control absoluto de todos los instrumentos del poder (el Congreso, las gobernaciones, asambleas, Corte Suprema, del Banco Central, del Ejército), más bien lo que ha hecho es aumentar la pobreza como nunca antes la hemos tenido.

¿Con todo ese poder podría Chávez convertirse en dictador?

Puede tener esa tentación. Sin embargo Chávez es su peor enemigo y simplemente hay que dejarlo hacer y él se seguirá hundiendo con sus propias miopías, resentimientos, pugnacidades y torpezas.

¿A qué le tiene más miendo en Venezuela?

A una dictadura militar de cualquier tipo.

¿Le preocupan los círculos bolivarianos?

Sí. Algunos de ellos son simplemente grupos que se reúnen para ver si pueden extraer algo del Estado, y otros son escogidos, entrenados, financiados y armados para defender al gobierno. Son paramilitares y un legado terrible de Chávez al país.

¿La OEA puede hacer algo?

La solución no puede venir de la OEA y ella no es la solución como no lo es ningún actor externo. Pero puede contribuir.

¿Cree que Chávez es una alternativa al plan del capitalismo liberal?

En todo el mundo hay un apetito muy grande por una fórmula alternativa a lo que hemos visto hasta ahora. Alguna vez me preguntaba si Chávez era una reliquia del pasado o un precursor del futuro. Si es otro dictatorzuelo populista-militar de los que tanto se han visto en América Latina o un precursor de tendencias. Para que uno sea precursor y tenga un modelo digno de imitar, ese modelo debe tener algún tipo de éxito.

¿Qué pasará con el paro de hoy?

Cada vez que hay un paro es promovido como un punto de inflexión definitivo. Ninguna de estas cosas por sí sola va a ser un punto de inflexión, son todas partes de un proceso de gran incomodidad, desesperación social, donde la gente ya no sabe qué hacer y donde hay un gobierno que sencillamente tiene la cara dura de decirle al mundo que en Venezuela no está pasando nada. Chávez tuvo cientos de miles de personas en la calle protestando contra su gobierno y pidiendo su renuncia, y le dijo a Kofi Annan que no estaba pasando nada.

posted by Richard 6:20 PM
. . .
Work stoppage update: Both sides are claiming success in today's nationwide work stoppage.

Speaking for the government, Vice President José Vicente Rangel claimed the strike/lockout was a failure, reports
El Nacional.
"The country is not stopped, the country is functioning normally," indicated Rangel during a meeting with the press.
"El país no se paró, el país esta de pie funcionando normalmente", indicó Rangel durante un encuentro con la prensa.
He called for dialog:
"We are open to whichever type of agenda to discuss whichever subject. The national government does not shun the discussion of certain subjects, on the contrario, we are disposed to participate in an agenda of common agreement with the democratic sectors of the opposition," said Rangel during a declaration released this evening from the Miraflores Palace.
"Estamos abiertos a cualquier tipo de agenda para discutir cualquier tema. El gobierno nacional no rehuye a la discusión de tema alguno, por el contrario, estamos dispuestos a participar en una agenda de común acuerdo con los sectores democráticos de la oposición?, dijo Rangel durante una declaración emitida en horas de la noche desde el Palacio de Miraflores.
Speaking for the opposition, Carlos Ortega, president of the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela, affirmed that the paralization of the country reached about 83 per cent, reports El Nacional in another story. While claiming success, Ortega also announced that the opposition has decided not to extend the work stoppage beyond 6 p.m. Instead, Orgega said the opposition plans to concentrate on obtaining the signatures needed to force a consultative referendum that would result in the recall of President Hugo Chávez. Ortega estimated the action's effectiveness as follows:

* By state:
Carabobo, Amazonas 90%, Anzoátegui, 90%, Apure, 85%, Aragua, 90%, Barinas 85%, Bolívar 60%, Carabobo, 90% Cojedes, 90%, Delta Amacuro, 90%, Distrito Capital, 70%, Falcón, 80%, Guárico, 85%, Lara, 85%, Mérida, 85%, Miranda, 80%, Monagas, 85%, Nueva Esparta, 85%, Portuguesa, 89%, Sucre Carúpano, 80%, Sucre Cumaná, 90%, Táchira, 80%, Trujillo, 75%, Vargas, 80%, Yaracuy, 90%, Zulia, 90%.
*By sector:
public, 75%; health, 80%; education, 90%; oil, 60%; transport, 65%; comercial, 85%; fishing, 90%; merchant marine, 75%; banking, 85%; metals, 75%; construction, 95%, heavy machinery, 95%; textiles, 85%; printing, 90%.
El Nacional has a photo gallery, beginning here.

El Universal reports that both sides are demonstrating into the evening, with opposition crowds beating pots (a form of demonstration known as cacerola) to celebrate the success of their job action, while government supporters gather in the vicinity of the Miraflores Palace to hear such stalwarts as the minister of interior and justice, Diosdado Cabello, and the mayor of the Liberador are of Caracas, Freddy Bernal. The paper says Cabello, speaking to the pro-government crowd, confirmed the detention of three individuals allegedly involved in a plot to assassinate President Chávez.

posted by Richard 5:48 PM
. . .
Bloomberg.com and Yahoo! News - AP have English-language reports on the Venezuelan work action.

Yahoo! News also has photos, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

posted by Richard 8:47 AM
. . .
Another country heard from: Weighing in on Venezuela just in time for today's lockout/strike is Fidel Castro, reports
El Nacional.
The Cuban president, Fidel Castro, said today that he sees the political situation in Venezuela evolving "well," and affirmed his confidence in the president Hugo Chávez, "in his integrity, dignity, good faith and love for the people."
El presidente cubano, Fidel Castro, dijo hoy que ve evolucionar "bien" la situación política en Venezuela, y afirmó que confía en el presidente Hugo Chávez, "en su integridad, dignidad, buena fe y amor al pueblo".
Castro spoke in response to a question at a news conference in Cuba.
There is polarization, but polarizations are not significantly debilitating. It also happened in our country for sure," he said in response to a question about the current situation in Venezuela.

"In all ways," he added, "the fight is hard because the reactionary sectors have experience, resources, force, means."

The Cuban leader said that "these are phenomena that we understand very well, but it is very delicate," he empahsized, "to speak of these subjects because they relate to another nation, and any declaration can be taken as interference in the affairs of another country."
Hay una polarización, pero las polarizaciones no significan debilitamiento. También en nuestro país de cierta forma pasó así", dijo al responder a una pregunta sobre la situación actual en Venezuela.

"De todas maneras -añadió- es dura la lucha porque los sectores reaccionarios tienen experiencia, recursos, fuerza, medios".

El líder cubano dijo que "son fenómenos que nosotros comprendemos muy bien, pero es muy delicado -recalcó- hablar de cualquiera de esos temas porque se trata de otra nación y cualquier declaración puede ser tomada como una injerencia en los asuntos de otro país".
And Fidel would never want to do that.

posted by Richard 8:36 AM
. . .
Strike! The nationwide work stoppage called by Fedecámaras, the chamber of commerce, and the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), the largest union, began at 6 a.m.

The action's sponsors are proclaiming success, according to
El Nacional. The head of the business group Coindustria claims 70 per cent support from industry. The paper reports participation in states beyond Caracas as Zulia, 90 per cent, Carabobo, Yaracuy and Miranda 80 per cent, Cojedes, 65 per cent, and Lara 85 per cent. Supporters of the action claim 30 per cent support in and around the city of Guayana, which they claim is a success since area businesses are mostly in basic industries. In relation to economic sectors, supporters claim that in eduation the paralization is 90 per cent, in transport 75 per cent and in health 85 per cent. Public transportation is running, with reduced traffic.

The minister of labor in the Chávez government takes a different view, reports El Nacional in another story. The minister, Maria Cristina Iglesias, says that basic industries, including petroleum, are functioning normally. The food and auto industries also are producing, she says.
"I see two completely distinct realities and I am sure that already businesses will be open inside a very few hours. We know that this is not a normal day but we are certain that everything will be improving," she added in an interview with the television station Globovisión.
“Veo dos realidades completamente distintas y estoy segura de que ya los negocios estarán abiertos dentro de muy pocas horas. Sabemos que no es un día normal pero estamos seguros que todo irá mejorando”, agregó al ser entrevistada por la televisora Globovisión.
It's still early and the answers to the day's two big questions are not yet known: Will the action's sponsors try to continue beyond 12 hours? Will Chávez attempt to use the action as a pretext for some action of his own?

posted by Richard 8:15 AM
. . .
Sunday, October 20, 2002
Election: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is poised to win the October 27 presidential run-off election in a landslide, reports the
Financial Times. The most recent estimates, based on late polls, is that da Silva will receive more than 60 per cent, nearly double the votes of this opponent, José Serra.

Bloomberg.com also has a report.

posted by Richard 5:39 PM
. . .
Provocation? Opposition business groups, led by Fedecámaras, Venezuela's chamber of commerce, and the country's largest labor union, Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), are leading a nationwide strike/lockout for 12 hours tomorrow. In addition, the organizers have talked about extending the work action, if it is a success.

Looking toward tomorrow, two questions present themselves: First, will the stoppage succeed? Last December, the opposition did succeed in shutting down the country for a day. Can they do it again? Second, will tomorrow's action become pretext for a coup against the government, or a self-coup (autogolpe) by the government. Between the two, the self-coup is the most likely. In fact President Hugo Chávez may have taken the first step toward an autogolpe yesterday--created a provocation.

Yesterday, Chávez informed listeners to his weekly radio program, Aló Presidente, that he was the target of an assassination attempt upon his return from Europe. According to
El Nacional, Chávez told his listeners that the presidential plane was forced to land in Maracay after some sort of military movement was detected along the north coast at Catia La Mar, Vargas state. Upon investigation,
He revealed that a bazooka, a mobil phone, two photos of him, coordinates of the flight, an arial photo of the area, and a pocket-size notebook, whose owner had an address in Cúcuta, Colombia, were found in a black bag in a kiosk on the beach.

"It is like an extremely accurate gun, a rocket (launcher) of Swedish origin, with a range of 500 meters, time of flight 300 memters, it is an anti-tank arm" detailled Chávez about the armament found in the area.

He indicated that the authorities are working under the theory that the alleged assassins would use the rocket launcher to knock down the presidential plane.

The president asserted that in the same place a message to a presumed sniper was also found giving instructions and agreed that in a phone book that was taken possession of there were names of persons opposed to the government. With regard to the mobil phone, he determined that "in the previous half hour this celular phone had made 46 calls and this was referred to a court."
Reveló que en un quiosco en la playa se encontró dentro de un bolso negro una bazuca, un teléfono móvil, dos fotos de él, coordenadas de vuelo, una foto aérea de la zona y una agenda de bolsillo, cuyo dueño tenía dirección en Cúcuta, Colombia.

"Es como un fusil sumamente preciso, un (lanza) cohete de fabricación sueca cargado, con un alcance de 500 metros, tiempo de vuelo 300 metros, es un arma antitanque", detalló Chávez sobre el armamento hallado en la zona.

Señaló que las autoridades manejan la hipótesis de que los supuestos asesinos utilizarían el lanzacohetes para derribar el avión presidencial.

El presidente aseveró que en el lugar también se encontró un mensaje a un presunto francotirador dándole indicaciones y agregó que en la agenda de teléfonos que se incautó había números de personas opositoras al gobierno.

En cuanto al teléfono movil, precisó que "en la última media hora ese celular había hecho 46 llamadas y eso se remitirá a un tribunal".
The key point hinting a a deliberate provocation isn't the alleged plot itself. It is that Chávez ties the plot directly to identifiable members of the opposition, named in the notebook of phone numbers and revealed by the record of calls made from the phone book. Evidence of this sort--real or forged--cannot be ignored. Something has to happen.

Anticipating the opposition's response, Chávez said "they are going to say that it was my invention" ("van a decir que fue un invento mío").
He advised his adversaries: "you believe that the people are going to be left sitting. They killed Chávez, burried him and the problem is over? It is not as easy as this, all the world saw that what the people are capable of doing, during the 13th and 14th of April."
Advirtió a sus adversarios: "¿ustedes creen que ese pueblo se va a quedar allí sentado. Mataron a Chávez entiérrenlo y se acabó el problema? Eso no es tan fácil así, todo el mundo vio lo que es capaz de hacer el pueblo, durante el 13 y el 14 de abril".
On April 13 and 14, following overthrow, thousands of Chávez came out into the streets and began rioting and looting.

Also ahead of the work action:

* El Universal reports that the army will begin patrolling the capitol region at 6 p.m. today, with about 1,200 men, and continuing with at least twice that number tomorrow.

* In another story, El Universal also reports that the national guard will attempt to protect transport systems and businesses that elect to remain open during the work stoppage.

Yahoo! News - AP has a story on the subject.

posted by Richard 1:54 PM
. . .
Saturday, October 19, 2002
Sugar: Cuba's sugar industry is facing radical reform, reports the Wall Street Journal (no link). Faced with the loss of $200 million a year revenue from a Russian spy station, a 20 per cent decline in tourism, falling exile remittances and a decline in the sugar price, the Castro government has begun closing substantial portion of island's sugar industry in favor of replacement food crops.

More than 100,000 workers have been or will be put out of work. Already, the government has closed 71 of country's 156 sugar mills and ordered the sugar cane land that supplied them turned over to rice or cattle production, "enterprises the Revolution has failed at miserably" in the past, the paper says.
"The government says it can simultaneously produce the same volume of sugar with half the machinery and manpower, and diversity its agriculture."
Outside experts disagree.
"The plan in unrealistic," Says Jose Alvarez, a professor at the University of Florida Everglades Research Center and co-author oa book on Cuba's sugar industry. "While the intentions are good, the problem is that there are not incentives for workers in the country."
So, just how messed up is the situation?
In late May, local party officials showed the mill's 500 workers a video extolling the virtues of the crop substitution plan, which hopes to save Cuba money on food imports by growing more of its own vegetables and grains. But workers like Daniel Carballeira are unimpressed. The 48-year-old engineer says he'd rather not grow anything if he can't own the land or keep part of his output.

Indeed, state agriculture has largely been a disaster. Cuba has about 4.5 million cows--fewer than in 1959. In 2000 Cuiba produced 552,800 tons of rice, one of the products sugar workers are not supposed to grow. But only a fifth of the rice was grown on state-run provincial farms. The rest came from private farms and the army, which grows its own rice.

So far, the switch to agriculture at the local mill here is not going well. At the railroad yard in front of the mill, where for decades trains hauled in cane and left with raw sugar, a group of workers lifts the rails from their lines under a hot midday sun. Their orders: Take up all the rail lines and oil-soaked gravel, haul in trockloads of dirt, and plant vegetables. When asked why they are planting crops on the railroad lines instead of in a fallow field a few yards away, one worker looks up and shakes his head: "That's what I'd like to know."
El Sur previously noted this subject,
here and here.

posted by Richard 10:32 AM
. . .
Friday, October 18, 2002
Economic Analysis: The ,
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has an overview of Venezuela's economy. The center concludes that
Chávez is not the architect of the many economic problems facing Venezuela today, but he has done little to resolve these long-standing difficulties and in many cases has exacerbated them.

posted by Richard 1:42 PM
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Dollarization: Ecuador has a presidential election this Sunday. You say, So what?

According to Mary Anastasia O'Grady, in her The Americas column in the Wall Street Journal (no link),
Ecuador and it's election might be entirely forgettable if it weren't for one fact that sets the country apart from the rest of South America. That is that the country has officially adopted the dollar as its national currency and retired the sucre. By doing so it has turned the banana producing Andean nation in to one of the world's most important laboratories for the dollarization experiment.
So far, O'Grady reports, apparently based on the work of Kurt Schuler, senior economist at the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, dollarization has been reasonably successful.
Considering the economic and political maladies that have spread throughout Latin America in recent years, one might expect Ecuador to be approaching Haitian living standards. But thanks to dollarization, it's not. Mr. Schuler explains: "The economy has grown; money has flowed back into the banking system, allowing deposits to be unfrozen; inflation has fallen, after an initial burst to catch up to the depreciation of the sucre; the government budget has turned from deficit to surplus; unemployment has fallen; and so on." He notes that "the average monthly wage has risen," as has real gross domestic product.
O'Grady, still following Shuler, makes much of the comparison between Ecuador and Argentina:
Yet the differences Mr. Schuler outlines between Ecuador and Argentina indicate that something positive is in the works. "Ecuador dollarized to prevent further currency depreciation, Argentina devalued; Ecuador was able to unfreeze bank deposits, thanks to the return of confidence that dollarization brought, Argentina froze bank desposits; Ecuador allowed deposits to remain in dollars, Argentina forcibly converted dollar deposits into pesos; Argentina raised tax rates, Ecuador eliminated the financial transaction tax and, by luck, avoided raising the value added tax. In summary, Ecuador has moved toward predictability and respect for property rights, while Argentina has moved away."

posted by Richard 1:31 PM
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* President Hugo Chávez, on a European tour of France, Italy, Great Britain and, now, Norway, says he does not fear Monday's general strike, reports
El Nacional. To fear the work stoppage is to fear a phantasm, he said.
Chávez commented also that he spoke on Thursday night with the vice president, José Vicente Rangel, and he confirmed to him that such sectors as petroleum, iron and steel, aluminum, gold, education and transport will not take part in the lockout. "They will stop themselves, but the country will not come to a halt," he concluded.

He insisted that the general strike is a desperate threat threat of an opposition that can't count on popular support and seeks a way out.

Chávez criticized his detractors, and accused them of being the same people who governed Venezuela for 50 years and who "grossly enriched themselves and impoverished the people."

"They don't have leaderhips, they don't have the support of the majority, they don't have confidence," opined the Venezuelan president, who added that "they are defending their privileges and we the social interest."
Chávez comentó también que habló el jueves por la noche con el vicepresidente, José Vicente Rangel, y éste le confirmó que sectores como el petróleo, la siderurgia, el aluminio, el oro, la educación o el transporte no secundarán el paro. "Así se pararán ellos, pero el país no se para", concluyó.

Insistió en que la huelga general es una amenaza desesperada de una oposición que no cuenta con el apoyo popular y busca una salida.

Chávez criticó a sus detractores, y les acusó de ser las mismas personas que gobernaron Venezuela durante cincuenta años y que "se enriquecieron de manera grosera y empobrecieron al pueblo".

"No tienen liderazgo, no tienen apoyo de las mayorías, no tienen moral", opinó el presidente venezolano, quien añadió que "ellos defienden sus privilegios y nosotros el interés social".
Fear of a demonstration leading to a coup peaked anew just before the opposition's October 10 demonstration, which attracted an estimated one million participants. It has receded since. (Compare, for example, Stratfor.com's most recent analysis of the prospects for a coup, summarized and linked in El Sur here, with Stratfor's analysis from the week earlier, summarized and linked here.) Chávez's willingness to leave the country for a week-long trip is itself evidence of his lack of concern.

* Monday's general strike/lockout isn't the only strike agitating Caracas this week. A few members of the Metropolitan Police force are striking against the department and the mayor of Metropolitan Caracas, Alfredo Peña. The opposition claims that the strike is part of an attempt to wrest control of the force from the mayor, who is a vocal leader of the opposition to President Hugo Chávez.

Wednesday and Thursday, reports El Universal,supporters of the striking police attacked the mayor's office, before being disbursed by the the Metropolitan Police. The demonstrators were believed to be members of the Bolivarian Circles, which the opposition considers to be Chavista street gangs, led by Lina Ron. (Ron's activities have been noted previously in El Sur, here and here.)

Yahoo! News - AP has a brief report on this subject, and has photos here, here, here, and here.

* Peña held a press conference Thursday night in which he denounced the attacks on his office, reports El Universal in another story. The metropolitan mayor charged that the strikers were being supported by the political police, the DISIP, as well as the Bolivarian Circles and Ron. He also charged that the attackers were receiving support from Minister of Interior and Justice Diosdado Cabello and Freddy Bernal, mayor of Caracas' Liberador neighborhood.
Likewise, Peña asserted that "in this country there is no state of right, because the defender of the people and the attorney general of the republic support the 'violent circles' that have been armed by the national government, therefore I will carry this and other accusations to the OAS (Organization of American States) and the United Nations, in order to activate the Democratic Charter."
Asimismo, Peña manifestó que "en este país no hay Estado de derecho, porque el defensor del Pueblo y el fiscal general de la República apoyan a los 'círculos violentos' que ha armado el Gobierno Nacional, por lo tanto llevaré estas y otras denuncias a la OEA y a la Organización de las Naciones Unidas, para activar la Carta Democrática".
Peña called on the military to pronounce itself on these grave actions that are being committed by these "groups of irregulars who the government supports, from the presidency of the republic, and proceed to disarm them before they produce bloodshed."
Peña hizo un llamado a la Fuerza Armada Nacional a que se pronuncie sobre estas graves acciones que están cometiendo estos "grupos de irregulares a quienes apoya el Gobierno, desde la presidencia de la República, y que procedan a desarmarlos antes de que produzcan un derramamiento de sangre".
* In a related story, El Universal reports that the "PM Strikers have a history" (Huelguistas de PM tienen historia). Citing extra-official information provided by a political source, the paper reveals that several of the striking members of the Metropolitan Police have been suspended on repeated occasions for committing crimes in office.
What those who today support (the police strikers) in the Plaza Bolívar to the shout of "return the PM to the people," is that many of these functionaries were sanctioned internally for unjustifiably hitting citizens and committing the crime of extortion, better known as "matraca."
Lo que no saben quienes hoy los apoyan en la Plaza Bolívar al grito de "la PM volvió al pueblo", es que muchos de esos funcionarios fueron sancionados internamente por golpear injustamente a ciudadanos de a pie y cometer el delito de concusión, mejor conocido como "matraca".
One, Sargeant Mario Alfonso Peña, was implicated the ill treatment of three tourists at a Caracas metro station.
The then distinguished Peña, wearer of the badge 00534, was accused by a French tourist, her Canadian son and a Colombian citizen of having committed several offeneses against them, feigning a check for supposed possession of drugs.

He obliged her to undress herself in public..."
El entonces distinguido Peña, portador de la placa 00534, fue acusado por una turista francesa, su hijo de nacionalidad canadiense y un ciudadano de nacionalidad colombiana por haber cometido diversos delitos en su contra, fingiendo una revisión por supuesta posesión de drogas.

A ella la obligó a desnudarse en público...
(One obvious question: How did this guy become a sergeant?)

Another striker, Rafael Longa, has a cumulative 52-days of suspensions for various offenses.

* A second Yahoo! News - AP story notes that the 1,200-member Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce (VenAmCham) has announced support for the October 21 work action.

posted by Richard 7:51 AM
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Thursday, October 17, 2002
Early elections: The
Miami Herald's Latin America columnist, Andres Oppenheimer, discusses the prospects for internationally supervised early elections in Venezuela. Oppenheimer notes the current gridlock. The Organization of American States/Carter Center mediation is "not going anywhere..." he says, "because Chávez does not trust the U.N. and OAS negotiators, and the opposition doesn't trust the Carter Center." Perhaps, he thinks, the recent proposal made by Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo--early elections under the OAS Charter--provides a way out. Oppenheimer notes that Chávez has specifically rejected Toledo's overture, and says nothing can happen until January, in any case, when Brazil's new government takes over. Still, his bottom line is insightful:
One of the few hopeful signs in Venezuela is that both Chávez and the opposition say they can win an election.

They should hold one as soon as possible.

If Chávez wins an internationally supervised election, Venezuela's opposition will lose its arguments to continue pressing for Chávez's early departure.

If the opposition wins, however, Chávez will have to step down.
Whether or not Toledo's proposal is realized, the August 2003 date for a constitutionally permitted recall election is approaching, as noted in El Sur Tuesday.

posted by Richard 12:35 PM
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The Chávez government is getting tough with opponents who are planning a nationwide work stoppage for October 21.

* According to
El Universal, Marisol Plaza Irigoyen, Venezuela's solicitor general, says that the government will declare a state of emergency if the scheduled stoppage lasts beyond one day.
As she explained it, "for (a state of emergency) it will be necesssary that the strike is extended in a form dangerous for the country, in which case the executive will be obligated to take measures to avoid the paralisys of the economy, such as to order the resumption of work."
Según explica, "para (un estado de excepción) será necesario que el paro se extienda de forma peligrosa para la estabilidad del país, caso en el cual el Ejecutivo estará obligado a tomar medidas para evitar la paralización de la economía, tales como ordenar la reanudación de faena".
* At the same time, El Nacional reports that the División Nacional Contra Homicidios of the Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas is demanding that Carlos Fernández, the president of Fedecámaras, Venezuela's chamber of commerce, appear at headquarters for an interview about the events of April. Fedecámaras led the April demonstration, which led the short-lived resignation of President Hugo Chávez. The business group's former president, Pedro Carmona Estanga, was Venezuela's interim president during the April events, until Chávez was brought back. Now, Fedecámaras, together with the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV) union, is leading the October 21 lockout/strike.

* Non-governmental supporters of Hugo Chávez are also threatening the opposition, according to Bloomberg.com.
Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said they would take over companies and factories that participate in Monday's strike intended to force the former lieutenant colonel from office, El Nacional reported.

Eduardo Pinate, who heads the pro-Chavez Bolivarian Force of Workers, said seizures would be undertaken on a case-by-case basis, and would be done to guarantee that their production continues.
Notable is that the threats seem primarily directed at business, rather than opposition politicians and labor leaders. Apparently the Chavistas see business as the weak link.

posted by Richard 9:04 AM
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Wednesday, October 16, 2002

* New groups have joined the work action scheduled for October 21, reports
El Nacional. Among them are Conindustria, the Cámara de Integración Económica Venezolano Colombiana (two business groups), the Colegio de Abogados (attorneys) and the Colegio de Odontólogos (dentists). Dentists? Osleida Arévalo, president of the dentists' group, says the Chávez government's economic and administrative mismanagement has left the health system broke and deep in debt to providers.

* El Mundo reports that the government has at the ready a presidential decree to take over businesses closed during the October 21 nationwide work action. The paper cites Darío Vivas, president of the Commission of Administration and Services of the National Assembly, as its source.
The decree guarantees private property and assures the functioning of businesses that join the work stoppage in the shape of co-determination, that is to say, an administration comprised of owners and workers, assured the legislator.

The Fuerza Bolivariana de Trabajadores (FBT) agreed to request the executive to apply said decree.
El decreto garantiza la propiedad privada y asegura el funcionamiento de las empresas que se sumen al paro bajo la figura de cogestión, es decir, una administración compartida por dueños y trabajadores, aseguró el parlamentario.

La Fuerza Bolivariana de Trabajadores (FBT) acordó solicitar al Ejecutivo la aplicación de dicho decreto.
* Chávez himself is in Rome, Italy, denouncing neoliberalism in an hour-and-a-half speech before the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, reports El Nacional.
In his words, Chávez indicated that "Latin America was one of the continents into which a major dose of savage neoliberalism was injected and is so much poison."
En sus palabras, Chávez afirmó que "la América Latina fue uno de los continentes a los que le inyectaron la mayor dosis de neoliberalismo salvaje y por lo tanto mayor veneno''.
Not that Chávez has nothing pertinent to say.
He criticized agricultural subsidies that the developed countries grand because in his opinion, "they violate the laws of the market, that is to say, almost the laws of God."

The "powerful countries assign solely as a production subsidy $1 billion per day, according to figures from the World Bank, and just a short time ago some northern hemisphere countries agreed to increase these subsidies," he asserted.

"But to the small producers of corn in Africa, to the producers of cotton in poor countries, these are not permitted to be subsidized because it would violate the laws of divine commerce," he indicated.
Criticó los subsidios a la agricultura que otorgan los países desarrollados porque en su opinión "violan las leyes del mercado, es decir, casi las leyes de Dios''.

Los "países poderosos le asignan sólo como subsidio a su producción 1.000 millones de dólares por día, según cifras del Banco Mundial, y hace poco acordaron algunos países del norte incrementar esos subsidios'', aseguró.

"Pero a los pequeños productores de maíz del África, a los productores de algodón de Sudamérica, a los productores de ganado de los países pobres, no se les permite ser subsidiados porque se violarían las leyes del divino comercio'', señaló.

posted by Richard 12:43 PM
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Election handicapped: Blogger T.L. Wilson, an American living in the Paris of South America, handicaps the upcoming presidential election in his blog

For the record:

* Wilson sees Peronist Adolfo Rodriguez Saa (the one-week president who defaulted to the cheers of Argentina's parliament) in the lead, followed by Elisa Carrio (Alternativa por una Republica de Iguales delegate, and soon-to-be darling of the first-world chattering classes).

* Good news is that former president and probable crook, Carlos Menem, "has all but disappeared."

* Also faded is the Alliance, which consists of Frepaso (Front for a Country in Solidarity) and the venerable Radical Civic Union, which is not running a candidate. Radical leaders in the National Assembly and Senate have been in the tank for the Peronists since Fernando de la Rúa was forced to resign the presidency last December.

* Favorably handicapped by Wilson (not just out of hope, it is hoped) is Ricardo Lopez Murphy, the liberal (and not in U.S. terms). Given that Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva is due to sweep Brazil at the end of this month, and that Argentina's elections are scheduled for March (with an April runoff, if necessary), it's barely possible that the liberal backlash to the socialist backlash against "neoliberalism" will have begun, just in time to benefit Lopez Murphy.

posted by Richard 7:56 AM
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