Friday, June 4, 2004

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Venezuela update

That Hugo Chavez and his Castro-lite policies sure are popular in Venezuala -- oh, wait, here's an interesting story by Andy Webb-Vidal of the Financial Times:

Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's president, looks set to face a recall referendum in early August that could see him ousted from office, after electoral authorities on Thursday declared valid an opposition-filed petition seeking a vote.

Jorge Rodríguez, a senior director of the National Electoral Council (CNE), announced that a preliminary count had found that 2.45m signatures on a petition were valid - fewer than 16,000 signatures above the required threshold.

The preliminary result, which had not been expected until today, appears to mark the end of a year-long campaign by opponents of Mr Chávez to secure a recall vote.

The CNE previously said that a referendum could take place on August 8.

Opponents were in celebratory mood last night. In Caracas, the capital, last night fireworks were set off, and motorists sounded car horns.

"We made it," said Enrique Mendoza, an opposition governor and leader of the Democratic Coordinator, the loose opposition alliance.

"Nothing or no one will impede us from opening the door to a future without violence," he said.

Voice of America reports that Chavez sain in a televised address that, "he is ready to face a recall referendum." Chavez's supporters might not be, according to the FT:

Shortly before the CNE issued the results, gunmen apparently aligned to the government used automoatic weapons to attack the office of the mayor of metropolitan Caracas, a staunch opponent of Mr Chávez.

There were also warnings that a sector within the military is virulently opposed to the idea of a referendum.

An important group of pro-Chávez army battalion commanders stand to lose key privileges if there is a change of government arising from a referendum, which some polls suggest Mr Chávez would lose.

"This group is willing to effectively kick over the table to ensure there is no referendum," an army colonel said.

Be sure to check out this news analysis by Richard Brand of the Miami Herald as well.

Chavez has been counted out before, so the successful petition drive hardly ensures his removal. Still, this is an encouraging sign.

posted by Dan on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM


the successful petition drive

Um, don't count your chickens quite yet, Dan. After all, the announcement was a preliminary count. Surely one of Chavez's cronies will soon say "Ooops! Looks like we were off by 17,000 signatures! The recall actually failed by 1,000."

posted by: Al on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Are you in favor of Presidential recalls Dan? I'm quite sure that we could right now get the required number of signatures to go ahead with a recall of President Bush (if we operated under Venezuelan rules).
This is not to defend Chavez. He seems off his rocker to me. I'm also glad the Venezuelan opposition (and Otto Reich at the State Department) have switched from the use of coups toward supporting a referendum, but it's still not clear that recalls are such a great idea.

They seem to have the potential to de-stabilize rather than stabilize political systems. What's the view from Political Scientists?

posted by: JHC on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Greg Palast on Venezuela in Nov 2003

"Venezuela, not Saudi Arabia, has long been the USA's largest supplier of foreign oil."

"During Venezuela's recent turn at the Presidency of OPEC, Chavez successfully raised the world price of crude to $20 a barrel from $10."

Could El Hugo be one of those mysterious foreign leaders supporting John Kerry?

posted by: Brennan Stout on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

I wrote a brief theoretical sketch in favor of executive recalls a while back, but I suspect many (or even most) political scientists would disagree. FWIW.

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

What's the matter, Dan, aren't Bushista coups good enough for you anymore?

posted by: Mike on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

An argument could be made that Venezuela limping along toward a path that may end peacefully or in civil war is part of the price for America's focus on Iraq.

It's an abstract argument. To believe there is a direct connection one would have to accept the idea that absent the large commitment of money, men, and high level attention to Iraq the Bush administration would be either willing or able to deal effectively with problems in our own neighborhood. I have some difficulty doing that; evidence for the proposition is lacking.

That said, an administration that wanted to prevent Venezuela's political situation from deteriorating, or Haiti from imploding, or even one that wanted to reach an agreement with Mexico (and later with Congress) on immigration would find a major military commitment in the Middle East a significant distraction. Hugo Chavez is a menace to the region -- for one thing, the higher world oil prices his Castro-lite policies have helped produce damage Latin American and Caribbean economies more than they damage ours -- and an effort led by the United States to isolate him and encourage the democratic opposition to him in Venezuela ought to receive support from governments throughout the hemisphere. Except there is no such effort; no one in Washington above the Assistant Secretary level even has Venezuela on his radar screen. The reason is obvious.

To be fair, it isn't all about Iraq. Most problems unrelated to terrorism got pushed to the back burner after 9/11. I didn't have a problem with that at the time and still don't, but it's been almost three years. Pearl Harbor didn't send whole areas of American foreign policy into stasis for as long as the war on terrorism has. Maybe because this is because the war on terrorism (with or without Iraq) is such a novel and multi-faceted phenomenon. And maybe it's because the folks running the show in Washington just aren't up to the job of handling more than one problem at a time.

posted by: Zathras on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

To Zathras: what makes you believe in the arrogance that Venezuela or Latin America needs the United States to "isolate him [Chavez] and encourage the democratic opposition to him in Venezuela ought to receive support from governments throughout the hemisphere." The US has already been caught doing that -- witness the fail April 2002 coup.
What's wrong with letting democracy take its course? Let Venezuelans vote out their leaders when elections are due. Just the same way we do in this country.
I think Bush is a threat to democracy too, but I wouldn't support a recall.

posted by: jhc on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

JHC, Letting democracy take its course would be fine if that was what is going on in Venezuela. Chavez has continually attempted to undermine democracy in V. by setting up and arming the Bolivarian circles (with Cuban help) in order to scare everyone who would oppose him. There are around 20,000 Cubans in V right now from soldiers to technocrats and Chavez returns the favor by giving Cuba, in effect, free oil; thus proping up that regime.

As for not favoring a recall, well, tough on you, those are the rules in V and it is a part of the Venezuelan constitution, not some trumped up subversion of democracy. Hugo would love to undermine it, but he can't ignore the numbers, instead he'll try and intimidate those who would vote against him.
As for Dan rooting against him, well, that's his right, Chavez is not a good guy and saying so is not interfereing anymore so than your speaking up for him.

posted by: AnotherScott on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Chavez has been a nut-case paranoid anti-American junior tyrant wannabee for years.

"Two U.S. Navy ships headed for flood-ravaged Venezuela are returning to their Norfolk, Virginia, base after President Hugo Chavez rejected an offer of assistance from the U.S. military, the Pentagon said Thursday.

"Last Christmas Eve, the Venezuelan Ministry of Defense requested assistance from the United States, after floods that killed between 5,000 and 30,000 people, making it the worst natural disaster in Venezuela this century." [...]

"According to news reports from Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, Chavez said: "I want to clarify to the world that North American troops are not going to come to Venezuela.""

Chavez has less intellectual depth and leadership skills of the mad mullahs in Iran for crying out loud. And that delusional, self-defeating paranoia was after seven solid years of Clintonian "multilateralism" too. [yeah Chaves is the perfect counter-argument to claims that dubya has alienated and aggravated int'l relations to new highs].

posted by: Ursus on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Wow, all these Chavezistas! They must realize their hero Fidel won't last forever and want to see a new dictator in Latin America!

So, here's a clue, Chavezistas: The Venezuelan Constitution ALLOWS RECALLS. That the US Constitution does not is IRRELEVENT.

posted by: blue on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Chavez seems no worse than say, Putin, to me. Both are democratically elected, with dictatorial leanings that need to be closely monitored. And at least Chavez isn't pursuing a war that has caused pretty widespread human rights abuses a la Chechnya.

The main opposition in both cases is pretty bad, too. Kleptocrats in Russia and a corrupt former oligarchy in Venezuela.

The main difference is that Putin is pursuing more of the economic policies that the U.S. supports, while Chavez does not. And Chavez is probably not as savvy an operator.

posted by: Matt on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

"The US has already been caught doing that -- witness the fail April 2002 coup."

They'res no evidence that the U.S. was involved in a coup. The "coup" was most likely staged by Chavez himself in order to help him consolidate his power by packing the supreme court, etc.

Remember, Chavez himself was thrown in jail years ago for attempting his own coup against the government

"What's wrong with letting democracy take its course? Let Venezuelans vote out their leaders when elections are due. Just the same way we do in this country."

Who the hell are you trying to fool?

It's hard for democracy to take its course when the President is arming people so they can go around killing and intimidating opponents. So people are just supposed to sit around huh? I'll bet you'd love it if he buyed enough time until their was no turning back.

The guy says he the constitution gives him the right to serve for 28 years. If that doesn't set of warning bells, then nothing will.

The referendum is democracy. It's a part of the constitution, so take your communist propaganda elsewhere. You can't fool anyone here, Chavez has already shown his true colors and so have you.

posted by: smengie on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

"The main difference is that Putin is pursuing more of the economic policies that the U.S. supports, while Chavez does not. And Chavez is probably not as savvy an operator. "

No, the difference is that Chavez is trying to set himself up as dictator for life, a la Castro, buy nice try anyways. Has Putin tried to manipulate the Russian costitution to give the president a 28 year term?

And yeah, these communist leaders are all about economics. That's the only difference. Really. They don't have anything to do with, say, totalitarianism, secret police, ethnic clensing, trampling on peoples basic human rights, etc.

posted by: smengie on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

I wish I could say that I was surprised at those supporting Chavez, but then again I still see people wearing Che shirts. In short, Chavez is a democratically elected thug, just like Hitler, who is moving more and more towards violent authoritarian rule. If we can stop a dictator before he is enthroned for life we should, just as we should have stopped Hitler before he had a monopoly on power. We did not have the foresight to do it then, but maybe we will have it now? Just because Chavez was democratically elected, just as was Hitler, does not mean that we should not support his overthrow. Sic semper tyrannis!

posted by: Paolo on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

God, what is it you guys? Can you not actually see that the only reason Chavez is felt worthy of attention by the US media is purely and simply because of oil? If you deny this, answer me this. What precisely is going on vis a vis the politics of Bolivia right now? Or Iceland? Or Jamaica? The answer is that you don't know: maaaaaaaaaaaybe something good, maaaaaaaaaaaybe something bad. Now Chavez is no saint i know that, but let's get a sense of proportion here: South American ain't Scandanavia. The countries we should be comparing Venezuela too are not Sweden and Denmark, but Brazil and Nicaragua (or for that matter Italy: Berlusconi is far more ruthless and corrupt than Chavez, but his slavish support for Bush has effectively given him a 'get out of jail free' card for blogs like this).

Incidentally here is a basic rule of politics: anyone who compares any living politician to Hitler is by definition an asshole. There are no exceptions. If the above poster is SERIOUSLY suggesting that Hitler would have tolerated a recall vote midway through his term of office, he should really read a history book, or any sort of book for that matter.

Incidentally, Hitler wasn't 'voted in' he was appointed Chancellor by Hindenberg, fuckwit.

'Has Putin tried to manipulate the Russian costitution to give the president a 28 year term?'

And has Putin agreed to a recall vote? And do you think he would agree to one if such a law was passed? Besides I though you people didn't like Putin since he failed to support the Iraq venture?

(Bending over backwards to be fair, I am giving the '28 year' thing the benefit of the doubt).

Incidentally I am glad to hear that a democratically elected government, passing popular laws, and behaving constitutionally is thought worthy of condemnations whereas what is quite possibly US subversion, and (possible) links with the coup attempt is not thought worthy of note. After all the US has such a great record in supporting democracy in South American doesn't it?

Finally the Bush administration criticising other governments for not using due democratic process is simply farcical.

posted by: Brendan on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Venezuela's constitution does indeed allow for recalls. Those who would prefer to see Latin American democracy take its course have perhaps not noticed that Latin American "democracy" has taken its course for lo these many years, producing a continent full of misery. Latin American countries have stayed third world, fallen from first to third world, reached for and permanently missed the first world.

Liberals just delight in our little brown brothers living in poverty, as long as Bush gets what's coming to him, or whatever it is they hope for. They know that our little brown brothers like it that way. They don't know any of our little brown brothers, except maybe they met that ugly little fraud Rigoberto Menchu at a book signing one day, but every day Latin America remains feudal is a good day for liberals.

I don't care much about Bolivia or Cuba, and I propose that these countries be awarded outright in perpetuity to anybody wearing a Che shirt and and carrying a Chinga Uncle Sam sign.

But it is not in the US's interest--in the world's interest--that petroleum-producing countries be run by lunatics beloved of liberals or anybody else. As soon as we can come up with a better energy source, then Venezuela can have Hugo Chavez back, or exhume Salvador Allende and rebuild the workers paradise liberals loved so in Chile.

Chavez will not abide by the results of a referendum. He is Marxist, and he, like so many heroes of the left, believes in one man, one vote, one time. He has said so repeatedly.

The world begins to get so small that we have to seriously consider not allowing any Rwandas, Zimbabwes, Venezuelas, Argentinas, or Afghanistans any more anywhere.

It is possible that Hugo Chavez can cause my family to suffer. This is not an outcome I can permit, any more than I can permit Osama bin Laden to prevail.

posted by: John Mendenhall on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Sorry had to make a few more comments:

'They'res no evidence that the U.S. was involved in a coup. The "coup" was most likely staged by Chavez himself in order to help him consolidate his power by packing the supreme court, etc.'

That is insane. This is worse than Kennedy assassination theories. Perhaps WW2 was really started by FDR in order to 'pack the supreme court' etc?

'So people are just supposed to sit around huh? I'll bet you'd love it if he buyed enough time until their was no turning back. '

The past tense of 'buy' is 'bought'.

And mention of the slaughter in Chechnya does remind me that Putin is by any standards you wish to name a more bloodthirsty leader than Chavez.

Killed by Putin

100,000 (and counting)

Killed by Chavez.


And please don't waste my time with the 'future tense' oh but I just know he will become a dictator. You don't 'cos you can't foretell the future, and if you can, please claim the Randi prize, and relax in Brazil (or Venezuela?) with your million dollars.

Finally, as i say, I won't take any of this seriously unless you are prepared to make similar criticisms of the brutal dictators in teh 'Stan' countries...except...oh of course they supported the 'war'. That makes them all saints, doesn't it?

posted by: Brendan on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Listen, there is no doubt that Chavez has shown authoritarian tendencies, ala Putin. Except of course that there is far more freedom of the press in Venezuela than in Russia, and human rights organizations have far more to complain about in Russia than Venezuela. Venezuelans are also quite divided about Chavez -- he was twice elected by landslides, and continues to have a popular following. He's certainly popular compared to many other elected Presidents in Latin America.

Yes the recall should be allowed to proceed, since it is a legal mechanism in the Constitution.

Yes, Chavez himself is a past coup plotter, and I have very little affection for the guy. He strikes me as the worst of old style Latin American populist caudillos. I rather like the fact that he's focusing social spending on the poor but he seems incompetent and very often incoherent.

But you guys are whitewashing the shameful way that part (not all) of the opposition behaved in Venezuela with the covert and overt (we recognized the coup leaders!!) support from Otto Reich in the US State Department. It's beyond absurd for you to suggest that the Chavez mounted the coup against himself. Please.

My point is this: democracy often serves up leaders we really don't like. There ought to be checks and balances to keep them from doing too much harm. A recall is one possibility.

But let's not pretend to forget that BEFORE the recall movement started in earnest this opposition, which is headed by the owners of big media groups -- who own most TV and print media in Venezuela which transmit and publish without censorship -- had already attempted to get rid of Chavez first through a coup, and then later through a 'capital strike' and worker lockouts; including an illegal strike in the oil industry.
These are on the whole NOT 'legitimate' opposition tactics (whether they are carried out by the left or the right).
The opposition thought it could quickly get the result they wanted by bypassing the rules of the democratic process but Venezuelan democracy, and they failed.

Even though I think it is a good thing they failed using disloyal tactics, I personally hope they succeed using loyal tactics such as a recall.

posted by: JHC on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

I agree with JHC only Americans are capable of counter government actions. It is so sad that only Americans are politically competent.


posted by: M. Simon on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]


Your life probably depends on the continued flow of oil. I know your welath does.

Protecting the lines of supply of oil is protecting at the very least your way of life. It is keeping a lot of people out of poverty. And as we show others how to use the oil to generate wealth we raise their standard of living too.

I do not know why protecting the lines of supply (critical for any civilization since Greece) is a bad thing.

The absence of conflict produces wealth. It is why America is rich. No civil wars since 1865. No major domestic disturbances since the subjugation of the Indians. Limited government. Property rights (I'm currently reading DeSoto). Both of which limit civil disturbances.

The really sad part of te third world situation is that they do not understand wealth. Wealth cannot be given. It must be generated.

posted by: M. Simon on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Chaez has killed, his inner circle of military commanders are actively supporting, through monies and material definitely, and possibly with men, the "revolutionaries" in Colombia, AND through material through "his" hit squads wthin Ven.'s cities and countryside, with arms supplied through Venezuelan military depots. He lies closer to the previous military leaders of S. America, ex. Pinochet, but on the opposite side of the Marxist/capitalist divide, he supports the populists, who are many not ideologically aligned, just hungry for a piece of the pie, and for hireby those who promise them a piece of the pie.

People here are glossing over Putin's and FSB's silencing of political opposition, free media, and capitalists in the country.

And Putin's Chechnyans (mafiya drug runers) and Russians(ex-KGB and security forces now free lancing) are working with Chavez supported drug cartels in Colombia, Western Brazil and Venezuela's border region.

What happens when in July Chavez knows he will win the recall nationally, but not in the economic centers, he will squawk on TV about his "mandate", and repress the cities similar to Mugabe's ongoing attack on the More Drink Coming party in Zim. Then the US will have to intercede at some point if Chavez doesn't cut a deal for oil flow, but not before then, and not without the Venezuelan expat community in the US and Western Hemisphere putting up a PR fight similar to the original Cuban refugees. Once again the expat communities of Florida will be key to any building of political will to oust the then formerly titled "President for Life."

posted by: Highlands Son on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

A blog this good should really attract a better class of trolls. You need to work on that, Dan.

posted by: Lee on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

How many recall petitions have been signed and the "rejected?"

How many changes in the constitution to allow Chavez to do as he pleases?

He has a SIX year term, which to me, seems like a good reason to have a recall function.

I can't believe the apologists on this board...if his reforms are helping people, he'll win a re-election or a recall vote.

Or do you not trust democratic mechanisms?

posted by: Aaron on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Actually, the Constitution that allows to recall the president is Chavez consitution, is part of his project for a 'Bolivarian revolution'.

I don't think he staged the coup d'etat, neither it was supported by USA, probably the opposition leaders understimated the support that Chavez had from his army, specially since he removed all the officers not loyal to him.

Chavez has lost a lot of political support in the last years, he won the elections as a public reaction to the corruption that roamed freely in the traditional political parties.

posted by: Luis on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

These gringos here oppose the recall election. Ha! You talk about Bush and whatnot, but you don't have the slightest idea of what people are living in every day life in Venezuela. Don't always try to apply your American ethos and pathos and Welt-an-schauung on other peoples.

posted by: Raúl on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

I certainly don't oppose the recall election, although I do oppose the coup attempt.

The opposition does have a tough hill to climb, however:

1.) They have to have more votes for his recall than votes he received to be elected.

2.) They have to have the vote before August 19, otherwise, there would only be his removal from office and his VP would take over. That would leave him eligible to run for election again in 2006.

One thing that I hope the opposition learns from this is that the status quo ante Chávez in Venezuela cannot remain. The Chávez's of the world do not occur in a vacuum. Venezuela is a country hugely rich in natural resources other than oil and investments need to be made in both the public and private sector to help all Venezuelans.

posted by: Randy Paul on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Randy's correct, and I'm surprised there's no mention of this up until now. As the Economist reports this week:

"Under the constitution, if the referendum is held before August 19th—ie, within the first four years of Mr Chávez’s six-year mandate—and he loses, there would be fresh presidential elections. If the vote is held after this date and Mr Chávez loses, his vice-president, José Vicente Rangel, will take over until the next scheduled election in late 2006. The electoral commission has proposed holding the referendum on August 8th, so Mr Chávez only has to delay this by a few days to achieve an outcome which he might not regard as so bad, given his closeness to Mr Rangel."

posted by: David Holiday on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

This promises to be a spirited campaign:

"Luis Vicente Leon, a top Venezuelan pollster, said Chavez's approval rating has rebounded and is about 41 percent. Leon said Chavez is still likely to lose a referendum but is creeping close enough to force the opposition to scramble to motivate its supporters to vote."

That makes him just a bit more popular than GW Bush:

posted by: JHC on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Wow. Looks like the communists above aren't happy with seeing people determine their own destinies.

By the way, for those claiming that they could organize a successful recall campaign against a sitting U.S. President, keep in mind that there were 3.4 Million signatures on the Chavez recall petition, roughly 13% of the entire population of Venezuela (including children, prisoners, and the insane). This massive turnout occured in the face of communist represion, and the assurances of the Marxists in power that they would continue their mass firings of everyone who signed the petition.

Since the population of the United States is around 300 Million people, those brave Marxists above that claim to have the same level of support for a nationwide recall in this country would require about 40 Million signatures (which, off the top of my head, amounts to about one in four of all registered voters).

Puts the popularity of Venezuelan Marxism into perspective, doesn't it?

posted by: Some Guy on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Liberals just delight in our little brown brothers living in poverty, as long as Bush gets what's coming to him, or whatever it is they hope for. They know that our little brown brothers like it that way.

Perhaps part of the problem is the patronizing attitude of those who regard Latin Americans as “our little brown brothers” and the understandable resentment that it creates.

posted by: Thorley Winston on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

Every time I read a news item like this, where a "sector of the military" expresses some kind of thuggery such as that described in this article, I experience a sort of mental jolt.

Can anyone imagine the Air Force, for example, deciding that it didn't like John Kerry and going to his campaign HQ with guns to vandalize and intimidate people? That's just inconceivable, and there's no way that our government, much less Bush himself, would condone it.

Yet another sign of just how different a world we live in compared to some other nations on earth.

posted by: Anne Haight on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

A ver, escribo en castellano para que se intereses más en e idioma. Que es el primer paso para conocer un pocquito la realidad de Venezuela.
Primero: Todos ustedes basan su criterio, su opinión, en reportes desde caracas mediatiazadas por las corporaciones informativas. Esas mismas que alaban a Bush y a su aparato militar industrial de poder. Por lo tengo, muchos de sus juicios están alienados por el intermediario.
Segundo: Revisen la página Y traten de buscar un punto de vista alternativo a los que leen en los medios corporativos.
Tercero: El Precoi del barril está alto por los intentos absurdos de Bush y su Halliburton de mantenerse en la cima de las corporaciones. Recuerden que la gran mayoría del dinero de las transacciones por el negocio energético no le queda a los países productores sino a las corporacones que tienen monopolios en su país.
Así que...Viva Chávez!!!!!!!

posted by: Sergito on 06.04.04 at 12:24 PM [permalink]

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