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Saturday, August 21, 2004





A Clinton polling firm would support American foreign policy aims of overthrowing Chavez? Shocking!! It's the last thing a pwog like myself would ever have guessed...


And from the right of center comes Mr. Thor Halverson with an article Titled: "The Price of Dissent in Venezuela;Hugo Chávez's thugs celebrate their "victory" by shooting my mother."


Mr. Halvorssen is First Amendment scholar at The Commonwealth Foundation. He lives in New York.

Yeppers, Chávez's victory was a victory for all of humankind.

Read the whole thing as Marc would say BEFORE you spout off.

David Holiday

Marc, thanks for the plug. And check out today's piece by Steven Dudley in the Miami Herald on Chávez' consolidation of power. He ends by quoting Teodoro Petkoff as saying "there's a real danger of totalitarianism."


this is what i read, as even the pro-coup washington post is admitting that the victory was real:

Penn, Schoen & Berland had members of Sumate, a Venezuelan group that helped organize the recall initiative, do the fieldwork for the poll, election observers said.

Roberto Abdul, a Sumate official, acknowledged in a telephone interview that the firm ``supervised'' an exit poll carried out by Sumate. Abdul added that at least five exit polls were completed for the opposition, with all pointing to a Chavez victory.

Abdul said Sumate - which has received a $53,400 grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, which in turn receives funds from the U.S. Congress - did not use any of those funds to pay for the surveys.

The issue is potentially explosive because even before the referendum, Chavez himself cited Washington's funding of Sumate as evidence that the Bush administration was financing efforts to oust him - an allegation U.S. officials deny.

Venezuelan Minister of Communications Jesse Chacon said it was a mistake for Sumate to be involved in the exit poll because it might have skewed the results.

``If you use an activist as a pollster, he will eventually begin to act like an activist,'' Chacon told The Associated Press.

Chris Sabatini, senior program officer for the National Endowment for Democracy, defended Sumate as ``independent and impartial.''


Marc, I really do think that when forcing home the point about Chavez' 1992 coup, you ought to provide at least some context about the government that he was leading a coup against.

Marc Cooper

Dsquared: Agreed. When Col Chavez and his red beret paratroopers attempted the coup in 1992 it was against a corrupt, dysfunctional but elected constitutional governmentthat was politicaly discredited. There is absolutely no evidence that if he had been successful a new Chavez regime backed by paratroopers and tanks would have been any more democratic than the government he was overthrowing. Of course, after Chavez did a spell in jail and was martyred by the ruling elite he became an ardent populist and won his presidency thru the ballot box. Whatever you think of him now, let's not give him a pass for trying to lead a coup. You can't find a single historic example of a "revolution" born thru a coup-- especially in Latin America. The Peruvians tried it in the 70's and that ended very poorly. So did the Bolivians. Both countries are now a basket case. Let's also add in the third example: Peron's Argentina. Peron came to power in a more or less coup after he was thrown in the clink by his military comrades who had recently seized power. And that's my biggest fear about Chavez.. not that he's a tyrant or a mass killer... but that he's another Peron. And that's just as bad in other ways. Since the 1950's in Argentina rational poilitical debate has been erased., It's not about right versus left or top versus bottom or markets versus regulations. It's been only about being for or against Peron/ism. That's exactly what we are seeing Venezuela today and what I fear we will see for the next forty years... with or without Hugo Chavez in office. Es lamentable as they say in Spanish because it dumbs down the crucial debate that ought to be happening. American lefties couldnt care less, however. They're in it for the quick fix: oh isn't it great that Chavez kicks the Yankees in the balls, that he kisses Fidel's ass, that he thumbs his nose at Bush... yeah.,great, fucking wonderful. But what about serious structural and political reform that guarantees the development of his country? I read this morning that Chavez is now going to send out "patrols" into poor neighborhoods to bring the revoltuion to the doorsteps of the oppressed. Poor people, indeed.


American lefties couldnt care less, however. They're in it for the quick fix: oh isn't it great that Chavez kicks the Yankees in the balls, that he kisses Fidel's ass, that he thumbs his nose at Bush... yeah.,great, fucking wonderful.

--the question is is there anything to be gained by letting Bush's coup pushers in Venezuela win, especially since, as is clear from even the accounts now in the anti-Chavez media in the US [i.e. the 'liberal' NYTimes, Washpost,...] Chavez won the recall, or defeated it as it were.

It would seem to me that a victory for Venesuela's 'opposition' would be just one more signal to people south of the border that only leaders that the US likes will be allowed to stay in power. An odd recipe for moving a progressive agenda forward in that region, no less odd than making up stuff about 'fraudulent'outcomes after the recall.

Michael J. Totten

Steve: "It would seem to me that a victory for Venesuela's 'opposition' would be just one more signal to people south of the border that only leaders that the US likes will be allowed to stay in power."

How, exactly, would the people of Venezuela send such a signal to people in the rest of Latin America? We did not hold a gun to their heads and tell them how to vote. Obviously.


How, exactly, would the people of Venezuela send such a signal to people in the rest of Latin America? We did not hold a gun to their heads and tell them how to vote. Obviously.

--no, we just funded opposition groups indirectly or directly, funded fake 'polls' now used to 'prove' that the recall was a 'fraud'. And you must be joking about not holding a gun to make people vote the way our government intends them to vote. Indeed, that is what makes Venezuela's case so unique, people didn't accept the 'opposition' controlled media [analogy: Rush Limbaugh runs ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX,...in the US]'s anti-Chavez campaign. How different from El Salvador, thus the hopeful aspect of this turn of events:



>You can't find a single historic example of a "revolution" born thru a coup

Turkey is the one that comes to mind, but I agree they're scarce.

I'd like to hear more about what you mean by "structural and political reform", however. As far as I can see, the most vitally important thing for Venezuela to do if it is ever going to develop is to educate its poor people. It's the one indicator that really needs to be tracked in development terms; GDP and percapita income numbers (even the much vaunted "extreme poverty" numbers) often require a hell of a lot of interpretation, but numbers in schools is a figure based on a headcount. Despite all the economic problems, that number has been steadily increasing in each of the last few years' HDI reports under Chavez. And that's what put me at least on the chavista side; nobody else seemed to have a plan for achieving this.

Marc Cooper

What I mean is that Chavez has no clear strategy. If he is, as Tariq Ali argues, simply a shrewd and radical social democrat, then why does he go out of his way to divide his country? As I am sure you well know, social democrats, are but liberal managers of the capitalist system. Fair enough. That's probably as "far" as Venezuela can go and stay viable in the global marketplace. That means, as distasteful as it might be, Venezuela needs foreign investment (with proper capital controls) and it needs the cooperation and investment of its own native entrepreneurial class. Chavez SPEAKS to these folks as if he's a radical marxist who is planning to expropriate them. They're plenty crazy to begin with. He drives them crazier.

Chavez, of course, isn't about to expropriate these folks. But the firebrand rhetoric reverberates nicely in the Caracas slums and builds a formidbale poltiical base. Peron, hardly a leftist by an stretch of the imagination, did exactly the same thing. Indeed, it might be worth noting that the first time Peron ran for open election his slogan was "O Brady -- O Peron." Either Brady or Peron-- Brady being the US Ambassador at the time. So here we have Chavez referring to anyone who opposes him as "terrorists and fascists." It's all of a piece.

For the moment, he's able to float his populism on the high price of oil. But that is NOT a development strategy. Even if oil remains at a high price, depending on the export of a prime resource creates few if any jobs, few if any new industries, few if any small businesses. It is revenue NOT development. Ask the Chileans, for example, who have been living off the export of equally valuable salmon, timber and copper and see how hard it is to find a job in Chile today that pays anthing near a living wage. So what is Chavez' investment policy for the long run? This raises other questions about his "foreign policy." Cafe revolutionaries may get a thrill out of his anti-US rhetoric, but how wise is that? With what alternative global force is relatively puny Venezuela going to ally with to guarantee trade, mulit-lateral funding and investment?

What happens if oil prices plummet? What is the long term health care strategy? To live off the political hand-outs of Castro and have Venezuelan health care provided by the sweat of Cuban workers who earn $10 a month to pay for the export of their doctors??????

Lula is an interesting counter-point to Chavez and it's no accident that he has quietly distanced himself from Chavez. Lula works hard to attract new trade and private investment (as well as social redistribution programs) by employing a cooperative, unifying language. His actual positions on matters such as FTAA and relations with the superpwer are just as "firm" as Chavez', but it's conducted with world-famous Brazilian diplomacy and it is aimed at winning results, not pleasing foreign lefitsts (Indeed, Lula has increasingly been attacked by Foreign Lefties for selling out-- while the same lefties lick the boots of Chavez, apparently roused by his macho rhetoric).

There is, of course, the other possibility. That Chavez one day is going to follow through on his more aggressive posturing; that he will extend his rule legally or otherwise; that he will "transcend bourgeois legality" and form some sort of one-party state (really it would be military-bonaparist rule). I can imagine the frenzied mastrubation that would set off in Madison and Berkeley. Personally, I doubt that Chavez is going to go down that road. Im sticking by my predictions that he will take the Peronist course: i.e. that he will amass as much personal power as possible barely on the margin of rule of law; that he will limit and restict the opposition; that eventually he will make a move on the (right wing) press; and that in the end he will "succeed" in establishing some perks and privilges for a certain strata of the population while the political system continues to degrade and decompose. What Venezuela desperately needs is a rational third force that could position itself between the demgogy of Chavez and the hysteria of the economic right. Unlikely. And lefty "solidarity" with a punk like Chavez only makes that option less possible. That's as far as my crystal ball takes me tonite.

Andrew Gumbel

Enrique ter Horst is plain wrong when he says the Carter Center people didn't check the paper audit trail against the electronic machine readout. They did -- and commented on how much better off Venezuela was for having one, vis a vis Carter's home state of Georgia, which will be one of two all-Diebold-all-the-time states in November. (See your buddy David Holiday's blog for details.)

Winning fairly, or at least without a decisive margin of vote fraud, doesn't make Chavez any better a leader, of course. But please don't muddy the voting machine controversy with easy point-scoring against confused Chavez-loving lefties. We need to be vigilant here AND there.

Marc Cooper

Thanks Andrew. I have no argument with your basic thrust. The ter Horst article, however, seems to be written BEFORE the Carter Center folks reviewed the paper trail audit. And at the time of his writing this piece, only Chavez administration officials seemed to have access to the "paper trial." I was NOT suggesting that there was fraud in Venezuela. I do think it remarkable however that none of the solidarity people found it worthy of noting beforehand that the recall was going to be done via e-voting. In any case, it all seems rather moot as of this writing.

Michael Turner

Marc Cooper writes: "I, personally, had no idea that the Venezuelan vote was being carried out electronically. I had no idea because no one mentioned it before the vote."

I was somehow aware that the recall was going to use both voting machines and a paper trail, both of which would be registering thumbprints of voters for later verification. Gee, I wonder how I knew this? Clairvoyance? Telepathy? Precognition? Or ... maybe I read it in a news story?

I googled on "venezuela" "voting machines" and "thumbprint." Voila: lots of links to lots of mainstream news sources describing, with some precision. just how Venezuelans would vote this time around.

So, yeah, I guess I musta read it in a news story.

As for the apparent lead held by the recall in polling that ter Horst (an upper-crust Venezuelan, by the way) cited as evidence of fraud - well, I can think of plenty of reasons why your average pro-Chavez voter in Venezuela would be leery of giving an honest answer - or any answer - if approached by a stranger, either before or after the vote. If you need to know what those reasons are, I suggest reading the Human Rights Watch Venezuela pages that Michael Totten was so kind as to point out. Check the difference between the pre-Chavez years and Chavez administration. Even with the safety-in-numbers of being in a large crowd, it's probably STILL not quite safe to tell a stranger in the streets writing down interesting data about you that you're pro-Chavez.

As for Chavez' "terrorists and fascists" remark, here's a Google exercise: find the complete, in-context quote, and tell me how you logically derive that Chavez was sweeping the entire opposition into those categories. If anything, what he REALLY said is consistent with the olive branch he offered his opposition after the defeat of the recall: he congratulated them for having transcended violence in this case. What is he talking about? Look at the Venezuela section of the Human Rights Watch and tell me that you don't see certain terroristic and fascistic aspects in the pre-Chavez years. Of course, you may admit as much, while insisting that Chavez's "terrorists and fascists" remark was only a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Well, I see a rather grey pot here, and a kettle caked in very dark soot. Or is it ... dried blood?

Michael Turner

A comment here about oil, but first ....

In the comment forums to which I contribute, my expressed opinions (only the tip of undoubtedly calamitous iceberg) are often aligned with those of leftist contributors. I sometimes feel I should do a monthly posting of my real ideological coordinates. Well, here they are.

The fact is, I almost never disagree with Paul Krugman except when I find some equally reputable economist pointing out that he's strayed off the reservation of economic received wisdom (and that's rare enough.) I think I'm as pro-market and pro-private property as it's possible to be, and still have some room for reason and compassion. And I think that if I'm wrong in those areas (I'm always willing to reconsider), I'm only wrong in the good company of some people who are a lot smarter than I am.

With that out of the way: Chavez is definitely using oil as both carrot (domestically) and stick (in foreign affairs.) Yes, he's effectively buying votes with oil money, and the only questions this behavior poses are whether he's buying them in the right way, for the right purposes. Is he an Allende? A Peron? A Castro in the making? Oh, I'm sure some of you see an embryonic Pol Pot if you squint at him sideways. Well, forget all that: he's a product of circumstances and systems, first and foremost, and oil is a big component of both. A focus on his personality or particulars of rhetoric is really beside the point. If not Chavez, it would probably be someone else not terribly different at this point in Venezuela's development.

Will the Venezuela oil windfall go away with dropping oil prices, leaving Chavez to hang? Don't bet on it. It's echoing around the business pages these days: we'll probably never see oil below $40/bbl again in our lifetimes. Even experts who feel certain that the recent runup is speculative frenzy are describing relief in terms of a return to around $43/bbl, not $23/bbl (where it was early this year - oh, how long ago that seems.) So Chavez is going to have his carrot-stick for a long time, a tuber-truncheon that any successor will inherit as well.

Oil is politically slippery stuff. It seldom brings out the best in a developing nation, and more often only makes things worse - see Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, and earlier, Indonesia's kleptocratic snakepit of oil corruption, yielding the OPEC's first BANKRUPT national oil industry. If you're Norwegian, of course, not to worry. You were already in mixed-economy democratic welfare-state paradise. North Sea oil just meant you could finance your kid's PhD, not just his M.A. But if you're Chadian, you do worry - Chadians looked around in dismay at their immediate Middle East neighbors, and decided to put their new-found oil earnings into an internationally monitored trust, to be spent on legitimate development priorities. In this, Chad may have only formalized and legitimized a program of social stability and improvement whose more socially-entrepreneurial Arab state precedent was ... well ... you won't like this. Chad was answering the question: "How can we become 1970s Libya without the Qadaffi?"

As well, oil is globally problematic for the environment. Guess which country has the highest CO2 emissions per capita? Yep: Kuwait, which probably has the most oil per capita, and no other source of energy anywhere near as cheap. It's adding up now. If you haven't felt some change in the air in recent years, you must be living in a freezer. It'll only get worse before it gets better, even under a ratified Kyoto Protocol.

Maybe it's time to recognize that humanity's petro windfall is not just everybody's problem, but also everybody's asset. The SF writer Kim Stanley Robinson - a Marxist in his view of capitalisms problem's, if not in his mullings over solutions - said in a panel discussion recently that he'd like to see the Antarctica Treaty amended to creep toward us all at the rate of one degree of latitude per year. And it was a good point, because among the many ridiculous global inequities introduced by strictures of citizenship in a complex of nation states, geology has endowed some citizens with an equality much greater than others. Property rights in the sense of demarcations of land area is something I have no issue with. Mineral rights within national boundaries, however, have set global civilization some real issues. It's possible we'll see something like Robinson's scenario no matter what - the next major hydrocarbon fuel source might be ocean hydrates, most of which are outside the 200-mile EEZ areas, in a global commons.

Chavez is smart about this - he realizes that his 'revolution' is oil-financed, that the recent price run-up is just a small market windfall within a much bigger geological one, and so he talks up his South America energy independence plans. He aims to internationalize Venezuela's advantages to some extent, to spread wealth effects, at least through continental pipeline networks. In a United States of South America, with free flow of labor across borders, the oil wealth would in fact flow more freely, benefiting more than just Venezuelans, in the way that an oil strike in Texas or offshore Alaska benefits people in Boston through rippling economic effects. South America isn't there yet, and it may never be, but for all the anti-U.S.-imperialism rhetoric, this program of his sounds as truly Bolivarian as it's practical to be right now.

South America is a huge continent, a whole world unto itself. It could be world with its own energy security, with some degree of common ownership of all natural resources. It could be a world where Venezuela's (and Brazil's) oil and gas belongs to everybody in it, but also a world in which everyone sees that the problems that oil and gas create are equally distributed. Or rather, UNequally distributed: global climate change will, after all, hurt the poor the most, and South America is bursting at the seams with poverty.

Problems are solved with models first. Africa needs a model. Central Asia needs a model. So do the Asia Pacific nations, with their wealth of oil and gas. This is one thing Chavez talks about that I'd like to see succeed. And it's about issues on which I think any fully rational pro-market liberal democrat might ultimately agree with a Marxist. After all, it's not getting any cooler out there.

Michael Turner

Of course, someone had to bring up this:


The Price of Dissent in Venezuela

Hugo Chávez's thugs celebrate their "victory" by shooting my mother.

Thursday, August 19, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT

"CARACAS, Venezuela--On Monday afternoon, dozens of people assembled in the Altamira Plaza, a public square in a residential neighborhood here that has come to symbolize nonviolent dissent in Venezuela."

Objectivity slip - for some people in Venezuela, Altamira is remembered for violence in the Coup of 2002. One of Chavez's responses to the most recent violence was to point out that this kind of thing has happened before at Altamira.

On matters of objectivity in reporting this story, here's a valuable resource:


Further on:

"They were led by men on motorcycles with two-way radios."

See link above.

It would be more accurate to say that "at the time of the shootings, a group of three men were ahead of the crowd, on motorcycles."

"A 61-year-old grandmother was shot in the back as she ran for cover. The bullet ripped through her aorta, kidney and stomach. She later bled to death in the emergency room."

Subsequent news reports (on the 17th, two days before this story appeared) have Chavez announcing that the woman is still alive, though in critical condition.


"An opposition congressman was shot in the shoulder and remains in critical care."

On the 17th, Solidarity Party leader Luis Miquilena was reported as being "out of danger, and recovering" from a shoulder wound. How is that "critical care"? In the same report: "Ernesto Alvarenga was recovering from a bullet wound in the leg." He is a legislator, but not a legislator wounded in the shoulder.


"Eight others suffered severe gunshot wounds."

I haven't found sources verifying the severity of wounds apart from those already mentioned. I guess any gunshot wound is severe, if your mom has taken several.

"In a jarringly similar attack that took place three years ago, the killers were caught on tape and identified as government officials and employees. They were briefly detained--only to be released and later praised by Col. Chavez in his weekly radio show."

Actually, didn't he describe them as renegades?

"Their identities are no secret and they walk the streets as free men, despite having shot unarmed civilian demonstrators in cold blood."

Well, at least one of them is doing a 30-year stretch now.

"I was not in the square on Monday."

Ah, that explains a lot.

"... the country is afflicted, for the first time ever recorded, with malnutrition on a massive scale."

Venezuela's malnutrition problem started well before Chavez. The FAO reports 11% in the early 90s, 13% in the 95-97. In 1999-2001, they report 18%, much of which must have happened between 1997 and 1999. According to this report


"...levels of undernourishment in every South American country except Venezuela either fell or stayed the same during the 1990s."

I can't find figures more recent than 2001. The processes that led to this absurd increase in malnutrition in Venezuelan society during the 90s may not have been arrested, but I have a hard time believing that a president who's opening soup kitchens is not addressing the problem, or that he's to solely to blame for the problem, however severe it is now.

In any case, 13% is already "on a massive scale", but somehow the previous government doesn't take any flack for that from Thorssen.

He concludes: "In a free and decent society, it is not a crime to differ with the democratic government ..."

Venezuela would seem to be doing well in this regard: the opposition controls much of the media even now.

"... The vast distance between democracy and contemporary Venezuela may be seen in the depth of Col. Chavez's disregard for Monday's bloodbath."

"Disregard"? He has said they are trying to apprehend the shooters.

"Blithely ignoring the overwhelming video evidence that a massacre had taken place in his name ..."

Now you have to admit, this crosses the line into shrillness. "Massacre" would seem to require more than one death. And there hasn't been one death so far, though there may yet be.

"... he minimized the incident's importance and suggested that the gunmen were most likely linked to opposition groups."

Unlikely, but hardly a dismissable hypothesis in situations like these. As for minimizing the significance - well, compared to the violence in 2002, this isn't a big event. Except that this guy's mother got shot.

"His reactions chillingly indicate the fate that might befall the millions of Venezuelans who oppose him, and who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid political violence in registering their dissent by peaceful protest or by vote."

Chavez's reactions so far allow considerable room for ambiguity. Thor Halvorssen's reactions so far do not: he is very distressed and angry about what happened to his mother, and makes quite a few errors in a report which, with its politically sensitive nature, demands more objective treatment of fact than he could probably give it under the circumstances. The Wall Street Journal should know this. They probably DO know this. And they don't care.


Michael; very intelligent comments. I'd note that life expectancy in Vene has been rising over the last few years, which is not consistent with an explosion of malnutrition.

I'll also take $50 of action on your implied bet:

"It's echoing around the business pages these days: we'll probably never see oil below $40/bbl again in our lifetimes".

We'll see it in the next two years. Oil is in a speculative bubble at present; the last two or three OPEC statements have spelt it out. The USA is rebuilding its SPR, and the hedge funds have jumped on the trade (if there's a big buyer out there more or less price insensitive and with more or less infinitely deep pockets, why be short?)

I'd also point out, in the context of Marc's analysis above, that Chavez could tone down his rhetoric tomorrow, and he would still want to raise (and collect!) income taxes, and he would still be a "stupid little nigger monkey", so it is unlikely that he would gain ringing support from certain corners of Venezuela - it is not at all obvious to me that the problems in Venezuela's political culture can be traced to him. Lula does better, yes, but in the context of a much more functional polity. I'm still not seeing any scenario for Venezuela which doesn't contain Chavez and does contain education for the poor, and I've yet to be convinced that this tangible current good should be thrown away because of fears of Peronism down the line.

I think that the case for the essentiality of the educated PDVSA manageriat gets weaker every day; surely anyone who believed this a few months ago has to make some changes to their analysis to cope with the current production figures?

Miguel Octavio

I laugh a lot about the simpel analysis of venezuela. First of all, taxes is not the problem, it's the economy. In fact, the Government just removed a 1% asset tax on all compaies that was driving comapnies bankrupt. We have a 16% VAT, 30% corporate tax and incoem taxes have a progressive rate. Since 'rich" people are few and far between, you better be careful how much you spend on your credit card, beacuse they will match it to your taxes (Only 3% of the population has a credit card, 30% a bank account). the problem here is that this is state capitalism, teh government is the only rich guy here with US$ 20 billion in oil income in an $80 billion economy (GDP)add taxes and everything else and you get the picture. The oligarchs? Well, the ones from the finance sector mostly went under in 1994 with caldera repackaged as a leftist and half the financial system going under. Today 60% is in the hands of foreigners. The indsutrial sector has been banrupted by Chavez. Telecom is US or Spanish owned. Government owns gold, diamond, iron, iron ore and other minerals. There are some "local oligarchs" left in media and beer, but that's about it. Nice to have the private sector in foreign hands, they dont get involved in politics. they call that a revolution!

As for the recall vote, we got a bad deal from Jimmy, but he will end with mud in his face. Here is a mathematical study on the exit polls:


whta it concludes is that something is very rotten somewhere...



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