Saturday, September 29, 2007

Make Abortion Safe and Legal in Venezuela (...and everywhere)

(poster from a successful Mexico City campaign to legalize abortion)

Yesterday in Plaza Bolívar, just off of the Asemblea Nacional, a group of pro-choice activists called attention to a glaring gap in the advances made by the Bolivarian Revolution. Despite one of the more progressive Constitutions of recent vintage, the 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela does not include among the rights of women the right to decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy to full term. In fact, in the Latin America and the Caribbean, abortion is legal only in Mexico City, Cuba and Guyana.

The assembled activists ask the government to add to the Reforma proposed by President Chávez changes to Articles 76 and 84 of the constitution. In the current constitution, article 76 guarantees the rights of both parents regardless of their marital status to their children. It also guarantees parents the right to decide for themselves the size of their families, and obliges the state to provide pre and post-natal care. Activists would amend the article to “recognize the right of women to voluntarily interrupt their pregnancy for reasons of physical or mental health and in the case of rape, congenital birth defects, hereditary illnesses, or in the case when the parents do not have the economic capacity to guarantee the development of the child.” Finally, they would mandate that abortions be timely and performed without any form of discrimination against the women in question.

Article 84 currently obliges the state to provide a national health care system in order to care for the body politic. Proposed changes here would include attention to sexual and reproductive health. Furthermore, they would make family planning, reproductive health and contraception usage subjects to be included in the national educational system.

In other words, much like Chávez’s own reforms, the reforms sought by these activists seek to push the potentials of the 1999 constitution further in their intended direction.

In Venezuela just as anywhere else, abortion is just as much about class and race as it is about the rights of women to control their own bodies. One activist remarked “Rich women get abortions in private clinics, or go abroad, while the poor have them in their houses or in clandestine locations where they use complicated or unsafe methods.”

The lack of legal status makes official statistics for the consequences of clandestine abortions hard to come by. However, one central Caracas maternity hospital reports that annually 24 young women (between the ages of 16 and 24) arrive with complications arising from illegal abortions.

Of those 24, 20 die.

This is clearly a place where the creativity and leadership of the Bolivarian Revolution is in need. The current policy, even more outdated than the 4th Republic, only serves to reinforce lines of class privilege. Keeping abortion illegal keeps the lives of poor women of lesser value than those of the rich. It reinforces a capitalist cultural perrogative that money is the final arbiter of ability. Furthermore, it treats women who have neither resources nor health to carry a pregnancy to term as penalized individuals -- that is, as liberal subjects of the old order rather than as the new protagonists of a developing collective creating not only a new society, but a new form of sociality based on equality and solidarity rather than competition and exclusion.

And until this situation is rectified, the Bolivarian Revolution will always be incomplete.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Accion Democratica and 'the good old days'

Caracas in general is covered in some rather incredible political graffiti from all sides of the political spectrum. When I have access to a faster internet connection, I’ll post a collection of the photos I’ve taken throughout my time here.
(the painted text reads, more or less, 'away with the reform' -- referencing the recent flotilla of 33 reforms to the 1999 constitution announced by president Chávez.)(The stencils read: 'The time has come' and the images on the wheat-pasted flyers are of Romúlo Betancourt)
As of late, however, ‘AD’ agitprop has been fairly ubiquitous. ‘AD’ of course refers to Acción Democrática, one of the two parties which made up the ‘Puntofijismo’ system of Venezuela’s 30 some year long ‘exceptional’ democracy. Within social science and ‘latin americanist’ area-studies circles in the US, Venezuela was until slightly before the 1997 elections considered to be the only stable democracy in a troubled region. Colombia and Peru had their civil wars, southern-cone states like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile had their notorious dictatorships. Bolivia and Ecuador, both politically unstable, were poster children for the extreme poverty of the region.

Venezuela was seen as ‘special’ because since the fall of the Marcos Peréz Jimenéz on January 23, 1958, there had been BOTH relatively uninterrupted economic growth AND ‘smooth’ democratic transitions between presidents of different political parties. The details of this era of ‘exceptional’ democracy in Venezuela, however, make it look more like an oligarchic dictatorship which engaged in democratic theater than the ‘democracy with adjectives’ of political scientists in the north.

(The former view has prevailed among most in Venezuela since the 1990s, whereas the notion of ‘democracy with adjectives’ – ‘pacted,’ ‘partial,’ ‘incomplete,’ ‘formal,’ and so forth – continues to spawn cottage industries among political scientists in US academia.)

The upsurge of AD graffiti has been occasioned by the party’s 66th anniversary, but it also dovetails with a few other undercurrents circulating today throughout Venezuelan society. The first has to do with the euphoria of the current oil boom, which has some rich Venezuelans longing for the AD presidency of Carlos Andrés Peréz (his first time in Miraflores), when many though one had to ‘try NOT to make money’ here. The difference between this oil boom and that of the 1970s is that this time money is being invested in social programs and infrastructural development rather than financing the artificial boom of a cultural and economic elite.

The second has to do with the (opposition) perception that the current polarization of Venezuelan society requires the ‘return of sanity’ and the mediation of a wise leader. Such a position is of course like the image of two people fighting in the street, all the while shouting one at the other ‘you must see reason and stop fighting!’ while doing nothing themselves to cease hostilities. Such is, of course, the necessary line to take according to the protocol of a respectable representative liberal democracy – use the façade of political cordiality to obscure the raw brutality of class domination. Bolivarians are on the other hand on the whole concerned either with consolidating their power (especially so for the moderate sectors of the movement) or pressing the potentials of 21st century Socialism evermore deeper and more radical. The opposition position of course idealizes its own past, however, in that it fails to recognize the key role the military has always played in the rise to political and economic power of the national bourgeoisie. Today, the military is all but completely aligned with the Bolivarian revolution.

Such can explain the choice of Romúlo Betancourt in the commemorative graffiti accompanied by the exhortation “Countrymen: The Time has come.” This choice is perhaps also forced upon them in that Andrés Peréz is now more associated with his second presidency [1989-1993]. During this second time in office he imposed a harsh neoliberal adjustment package, sent the military into the streets to bloodily repress the popular uprising in response to it (the infamous ‘Caracazo’ of February 1989), and was ultimately impeached for corruption in 1993. He left in his aftermath a completely decimated political scene and would be the last AD politician to be elected president. Since an association of AD’s with the opulence of an oil boom is all but out of the picture, the party hopes to align itself with the ostensible return of stability and democratic calm to the country.) However, a look back at AD’s actual history, as well as that of the Puntofijismo system it inaugurated, might make them reticent to encourage such associations.

The Strange ‘Democratic’ Prehistory of ‘Puntofijismo’

In 1935, Juan Vicente Gomez, president of Venezuela since 1908, died in his sleep of natural causes. His rule saw the beginning and intensification of Venezuela’s shift from an agro-export based economy (largely coffee and sugar) to a petrol-producing state. It also brought about the end of nearly a century of civil war and local caudillo politics through the rationalization and centralization of rule in Venezuela and, perhaps paradoxically, the identification of political power with the figure of the president. Gomez accomplished all of this through a rather iron-fisted approach to domestic politics, banning political parties, assassinating or exiling opponents, and carefully controlling access to oil concessions and other key aspects of the developing economy.

Another decade of rule by the military followed his death until a group of development-minded young officers led by Marcos Peréz Jiménez overthrew his second successor, Isaías Medina Angarita. The junta then installed Romúlo Betancourt (who founded Acción Democratica in 1941 along with other members of the so-called ‘Generation of 28’) as president. AD was a rather attractive choice for the officers, in that its version of ‘social democracy’ was limited to the formal-institutionalization of the Venezuelan state and did not extend to the social reforms proposed by such groups as the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV). In other words, AD promised both to ‘modernize’ state institutions within the bounds of contemporary liberal democracy while containing the potentially destabilizing effects of social reformers such as the PCV. (Indeed, Betancourt would continue to outdo himself in his demand that AD – a member of the socialist international to this day – distance itself from and marginalize ‘radical’ elements such as the PCV).

Betancourt led the junta until 1948, at which time his teacher, the author Romúlo Gallegos, was elected president by a landslide. However, by the time of the so-called ‘telephone coup’ which saw him deposed NINE MONTHS LATER, nary a person took to the streets to defend Venezuelan democracy. When the exiled AD leadership called for its unions to lead a general strike the following year, the military junta easily crushed the sparsely attended events and declared all AD-affiliated unions as illegal as the party with which they were associated.

How could this have been?

Put simply, AD’s three years in power saw them use the office of the presidency not to extend Venezuelan democracy nor to ‘modernize’ the state apparatus, but rather to turn Venezuela into a single party state. It consolidated its control of trade unions in the burgeoning oil sector, tempered the potential unpopularity of limiting constitutional rights and guarantees with handouts from oil profits and made a constitutional institution of the presidential appointment of governors and mayors (which is ironic, given this is precisely what many ADecos (erroneously) accuse Chávez of doing with his proposed constitutional reforms today) – among other examples. In other words, AD used its first three years of executive power to build itself as a party, and subordinated the mobilization and ‘development’ of the population to this end. It furthermore ‘did not play well with others,’ doing all it could to keep other parties such as COPEI and the CPV as far from power as possible.

Romúlo Betancourt was the chief architect of this process.

As it built itself as a party, AD also managed to alienate significant power brokers in Venezuelan society – such as the Catholic Church and rural landowners. This did not sit well with the military officers who installed AD into power with the promise of returning ‘decency’ and ‘patriotism’ to the country. In other words, the 1948 coup as well as the lack of any substantive resistance thereto was made possible by the cynicism AD’s behavior inspired vis-à-vis ‘democracy’ among Venezuelans.

‘Puntofijo’On the 23rd of January, 1958 Marcos Peréz Jiménez was overthrown by what Fernando Coronil describes as
“neither a traditional military coup nor a mass uprising from below. Rather it was, in a peculiar but real way, the crystallization of collective discontent – from different classes, sectors, and bulwarks of power, including the military – against the increasingly arbitrary and personal rule of Pérez Jiménez. Peculiar, because these groups had not participated in common struggles and were not linked by interdependent sectoral interests. Real, because they were nevertheless united in their opposition to an unresponsive government and shared an interest in a state that would use the nation’s fiscal resources on their behalf. Despite their sharp economic and ideological differences, these groups formed a community of interests and ideals on the basis of a shared orientation toward the state as the main source of collective and individual welfare.”
In October of that year, the ‘Puntofijo’ pact (named for the house was owned by COPEI founder Rafael Caldera in which it was signed) was signed between representatives of AD, COPEI and the URD (Comité de Organización Política Electoral Independiente –Christian Democratic—and Unión Republicana Democratica – slightly to the left of AD, a Social Democratic party—respectively. By 1960 URD quit the pact). ‘Puntofijo’ was necessitated by the excessive sectarianism of AD’s first three years in power. All it really amounted to, however, was an extension of who was allowed to participate in the same old scheme. Puntofijo consisted in
1. The exclusion of the Communist party from Venezuelan politics;
2. An agreement among the signatories to respect the constitutionality of elections (i.e. not to take part in the military adventurism that defined the political past of Venezuela); 3. An agreement to rule through national unity governments. That is to say, not to exclude absolutely the parties which lost elections;
4. An agreement to establish – before any election – an accord of minimum agreement among the contestants.

In other words, Puntofijo extended the single-party rule of AD’s idyllic first triennium into a two-party rule that would last until 1993. As with any such arrangement, the democratic potential of any election or other institutionally-minded reform was always already neutered. It guaranteed that any change in government would not bring about significant changes in policy or policy-orientation, nor in the socio-political ‘status quo’ – an agreement as mutually beneficial to all the signatories as it was harmful to the majority of Venezuelans.

In this way, Puntofijo offered a democratic-veneer to the authoritarian system it ostensibly replaced. Its record of economic mishandling (I am not the first to wonder how a country that “during the oil boom of the midseventies…obtained more dollars from its oil exports than those given to all European nations by the Marshall Plan” could by 1995 have “the highest inflation and lowest growth rate in Latin America.”), nepotism and clientelism doomed it to failure almost from the outset. What is amazing is that it lasted as long as it did.

AD will always be associated with this order. Romúlo Betancourt was the first president elected under this scheme as well as one of its principle architects. Carlos Andrés Peréz was the last (but more on Andrés Peréz in another post). The excesses of the former during the first AD triennium brought about the ‘hiatus’ of the Marcos Peréz Jiménez dictatorship. The neoliberal reforms of the latter brought about the deaths of the Caracazo and the political and economic chaos of the 1990s. Worse, for opposition politicos and constituents, Andrés Peréz made the Bolivarian Revolution not only possible, he made it necessary.

Today again

I would like to return to the commemorative graffiti I encountered earlier today.The composition of the agitprop is ambiguous in temporal and spatial terms, confusing the orientation of both the message and the party it represents in a cacophony of symbols and referents.

First, we have Betancourt in the background, mid-sentence, gazing with a sort of certainty into the future. In this sense Betancourt – as well as the party and the legacy which he represents – is ready and waiting to return, uninterrupted, to bring a ‘better’ future to Venezuela. In this sense, ‘the time has come’ signals the ostensible ripeness of this particular political conjuncture for AD’s return.

However, the black and white of the image conjures a sense of return more than it does a time to move forward. In this sense, the image refers to the return to a past when AD’s constituency held control over economic and political power in Venezuela. In this sense it directly addresses the personal economic and social interests of the observer. If the viewer is an ADeco, or of the class position to make them potentially so, it signals their personal return to power and ‘stable’ prosperity. It promises the return to a ‘simpler’ time in which AD guaranteed 'stability' and a clear path to the future.

However again, the party’s shield is the only vibrantly-colored aspect of the image, in the blue-yellow-and red of the national flag. Its contrast to the black and white of image and text suggest that the party is both of the past and of the future, that it is in effect a force of both ‘modernization’ and all that was good about a bygone era. This visual content is reinforced by the stately bronze of the 66 of the party’s anniversary, which represents AD’s wisdom, age, and experience.

The heavy elipsis following 'the time has come' at the image's center again leaves much room for play. The only certainty of what precisely the time has come FOR is that it has to do with AD. Whether this means a return to 1941 or blazing forward to 2008 and beyond is intentionally open. The time for what? Certainly more than merely the 66th anniversary of the party? For an AD-led ‘democratic rebirth’? For a new puntofijo? Or, for another coup to be followed by AD rule a la 1945-48?

The choice of ‘Conciudadanos’ (‘fellow citizens’ or ‘countrymen’) provides the key to this mystery. First, note that ‘conciudadanos’ is left in the masculine form, whereas it is becoming more and more common for political discourse in Spanish speaking parts of América to differentiate the gender of terms – saying, for example ‘Ciudadano y Ciudadana’ in order to be more inclusive and, dare I say, ‘politically correct.’ In other words, the image/text is interpolates not only a particular audience or observer (one who can even recognize the image) but also all of their father fantasies. Betancourt is in this image the fantasy father who can be chosen by the son. And as such, a doubly-invested masculine figure of robust individualism at the heart of most notions of contemporary liberal democracy and the fetish of ‘choice.’

The hailing that takes place in the title ‘conciudadano’ is an obvious interpellation of the observer, but it is important to note that it is one which operates on the register of the formal-political. That is, it calls for the passersby to recognize in the image and in themselves an ostensibly shared legal-juridical identity. This stands in direct contrast to the rhetoric of the Bolivarian revolution which is all but always articulated in collective-nationalist (that of ‘Pueblo’) or classist (that of ‘Companer@’) terms. The contrast between the two couldn’t be starker, and ultimately serves to filter who can and who cannot receive the content of the message. By addressing the ‘citizen’ the image appeals to the individual – to the autonomized member of the modern nation state which AD ostensibly helped make of Venezuela. This individual is a far cry from the collective identity being forged by the Bolivarians.

The image, like AD, ultimately fail in this attempt to present themselves as of the past and the sole road to the future. One is tempted to remember Bob Dole’s failed US presidential campaign of 1996, where he countered Bill Clinton’s ‘Bridge to the 21st Century’ slogan with his own ‘Bridge to the past’ – a gaff which just reinforced the public’s perception that he was a past his prime politician. In much the same way, the AD image’s ambiguity and dissonance make it positively productive only to its ever-dwindling constituency.

One can just as easily (perhaps even more easily) from an opposition perspective read the ‘the time has come’ as the time to close the book on AD completely. Indeed, as reinforced by the expectant image of Betancourt, one is reminded that AD founded and ended the system which made the Bolivarian Revolution all but inevitable.

La Reforma. Or, yet another (self-imposed) Opposition defeat

I am still not sure where I stand on the issue of the up and coming Constitutional Reforms to the Bolivarian Constitution (which I'm sure is keeping a lot of folks up at at night in Miraflores). As I have said before, I think it dramatically heightens the dialectic between the president and the populace in a way that can either deepen democracy in Venezuela and push the revolution to its most radical potentials or reproduce in a more robust form the centrality of the executive which has defined past regimes.

What I can definitively say at this early point in the proceedings (the public will vote on the reforma this upcoming December 2nd) is that the Venezuelan opposition is doing its normal shoddy job of organizing and furthering their position. On the one hand, they have allowed themselves to be forced into the position of defending the 1999 constitution, which brought about the advent of the ‘5th Republic’ of the (now renamed) ‘Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’ – a document they have heretofore cited as an example of Chávez’s abuse of power and the fraudulent basis of the Bolivarian Revolution. Furthermore, the strategy they have been pursuing is doing rather little to make me (or, so it seems, many others) want to see their side of things.

(an interesting comparison: Opposition anti-Reforma propaganda (on the left) using a familiar Chavista motif (below). The world bubble and the red in both images are almost always exclusively signals to the observer that the message or meaning to the propaganda are associated with Chávez or Bolivarianismo.)

Predictably, the organized political opposition is substantively focusing on the proposed indefinite reelection of the President (which would not extend to other elected officials). Much like the RCTV fiasco earlier this year, this particular issue is a ready-made ‘winnable’ issue for the anti-Chavista parties, at least in terms of international opinion. That is to say, it fits into the (Washington-made) international perception of Chávez as a megalomaniacal dictator in actuality or in waiting. According to this narrative, the Bolivarian Revolution comes not from actual historico-political conditions (the collapse of the Venezuelan political system at the end of the 20th century, the excesses of neoliberal structural readjustment and exacerbation of the gap between the poorest and richest Venezuelans throughout the 1980s and 90s, and so forth), but rather from the cult of personality around one Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías.

(It should be noted that Chávez himself has not done much to hinder this perception. He has repeatedly stated that he will stand for no changes nor additions to his 33 proposed reforms in any manner whatsoever. The Reforma occupies a prominent place among the ‘5 motors’ of the path to Bolivarian Socialism, and since he ‘is not here to do anything by halves’ they are absolute, to be voted in a bloc, and not to be adulterated in any way whatsoever.)

This has proven to be a bit problematic for reasons other than the top-down manner in which the reforms have been handled. For example, proposed changes to labor laws, which would reduce the working day to 6 hours and the working week to 36 (which, as I have pointed out, could have potentially little impact in an economy so dominated by the informal sector) have been written vaguely enough so as to allow employers to extend the (albeit 36 hour) workweek to 7 days. Bolivarian trade unionists have demanded clarifications to the reform to keep the working week 5 days long at maximum, and to guarantee workers days where they do not have to sell their labor in order to survive. Chavista legislators and others in support of the reforms have stated that no one intends for this particular reform to be used to harm workers, but this is of course the problem with relying so heavily on the laws and constitutionalism to bring about social change. The danger here is, in much the same way as RICO laws in the US were originally intended to attack organized crime but are more often used against activists and labor unions, laws can remain in place long after their original time and context have passed.

But like I originally mentioned, the opposition has not been using these opportunities to their advantage. Yesterday provided us with a clear example. Manuel Rosales (president of Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT), governor of Zulia state, 2006 candidate for president), who is seen as many as the ‘head’ of the opposition held court in the Portuguese embassy with representatives from all European Union (EU) ambassadors in the country. His line: “Chávez’s perpetual reelection will harm your interests and your liberty in this country.”

He also complained that the opposition doesn’t have the same influence over the population as the government and insisted that they are not forming a ‘plan B’ as was widely circulated around the 2006 elections. (Far-right politicos and websites such as made many ominous statements in the lead up to the elections such as ‘December 3rd [election day] is not as important as what we do on December 4th [the day after what the opposition announced avant la lettre would be a fraudulent election].’ The plans included among other things the return of opposition ‘guarimbas’ –violent street blockades and destabalization efforts— which played a prominent role during the bosses' strike of 2002-3. For more detail, see George Ciccariello Maher's analysis in 'Plans B, C and D' at As always, however, Rosales here gives the lie to himself. Venezuelans sympathetic to the Bolivarian Revolution often see the opposition as both 1.) so without domestic support that they must depend on foreign allies such as the United States, the Vatican, and etc; and 2.) culturally made up either of European immigrants brought over during the dictatorships and the oil booms to fill an immediate need for highly skilled in the petrol and financial sectors of the economy OR (and perhaps more importantly) as a self-styled elite demographic centered in Caracas and Maracaibo who see themselves as White, European, and entirely above the mestizo and black majority of the country.(Coup-Monger Rats! The Pueblo will not forget!)

(it must be noted that both of these perceptions are, one has to admit after study and reflection, by no means without warrant. In this blog I have provided numerous accounts of this phenomenon. When one looks at the cultural imaginary elite Venezuelans project of themselves in the mass media, for example, one is presented with an image of Venezuela as a white republic of European ‘moderns.’ Eva Gollinger’s work (author of ‘The Chavez Code’ and ‘Bush vs. Chavez’) has definitively highlighted the anti-Bolivarian link between Washington and Venezuelan ‘Civil Society.’ More on this another time.)

So…how does Rosales rectify this situation? He holds a meeting with foreign diplomats and warns them that their interests are in danger??!?!?!??!?!!?!?!?!

Rosales has also (perhaps understandably) raised concern with the reform’s remapping of the political map of Venezuela and the introduction of the President’s ability to name special officials in charge of regions, tasks, or emergencies. For Rosales, this signals the end federal autonomy for states vis-à-vis the central government and further limits the ability of the opposition to win any toehold on power. However, coming from a man who has openly sided with Zulia-secessionists and sought US-backing for an ‘independent’ Zulia (see one of my first entires ‘Opposition Games’), this comes off as self-serving and disingenuous to most.

Primero Justicia (PJ), the Washington-founded opposition party has been focusing on the ostensible constitutionality of the reforms being voted en-bloc rather than one-by-one. Their position is that the supreme court needs to rule on the ambiguously worded Article 344 of the existing constitution which allows for the reform to be voted upon in either manner. They have conducted national surveys, held rallies, marches, press conferences – the normal course of events in a political campaign – missing the opportunity to actually debate the issues of the reform.

In the absence of any actual opposition criticism of substance to the reform, debates have been occurring within the Bolivarian bloc. The Partido Comunista de Venezuela (PCV) recently announced the proposed reforms they are in accordance with and suggested some reforms of their own (including reducing the voting age to 16), as has Patria Para Todos (PPT) (including the extension of potentially perpetual reelection to all elected officials). Trade Unions are pointing out the inconsistencies or vagueries in labor-related proposals. In the absence of properly ‘political’ leadership, business groups have made entreaties to the Asemblea Nacional to strengthen protections for private property in the face of the reform’s introduction of social and communal property-forms into the constitution. In short, not only is this moment deepening the democratic potentials of the Bolivarian Revolution, it is also exposing the extreme baselessness of opposition claims that the ‘dictatorship’ has stifled ‘civil society’ and ‘dissent.’

If the Reforma is rejected this December, it will have little to do opposition attempts to win over the population. Rather, it will ironically have come about as a result of the democratic energies unleashed by the revolution itself. (‘Only the Pueblo can save the Pueblo, Homeland, Socialism, or Death.’ The image of one fist pounding into another is that of the Unidad Popular de Venezuela, an ultra Bolivarian party headed by Lina ‘you can’t have a revolution without violence’ Ron. Ron has taken it upon herself to organize the ‘malandros’ (hoodlums, more or less) and outcasts of Venezuelan society to defend the Revolution by any means necessary.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Evo Morales on Daily Show

Here's the Youtube link.

there are also, as always, more goodies on all things Bolivian at :


Evo takes a bit to warm up, but it is most certainly worth the wait...I've become a bit accustomed to hearing presidents admit that the problems of today have come about due to the excesses of capitalism, living here in Venezuela and all...but it was still strange to see it on US television.

Especially important was the point where Evo pointed out, after Stewart soft-balled him the (inevitable) question on Chávez and Fidel, that there are countries which send their soldiers out to heal people, and countries that send soldiers out to kill them...I really wanted him to then slap the table and yell 'boo-yaaaaah, beeeeeeeeyyyyyyaaaaaaaacccccchhhhhh!' but alas, presidentailism prevailed.

On a less happy note, Caracas dailies reported that the Movimento al Socialismo (MAS) -- the party Evo heads -- is considering junking the constitutional reform project, which has been stalled by a strong (and much less stupid, when compared to their Venezuelan counterparts) opposition and regional separatist movements.

On a completely different note:

(graf from Oaxaca, summer 2006 reads: 'Turist, kill the bad governmnet. Support the APPO' the model is some homeless guy I paid 30 pesos to to provide perspective.)

File this under why the NYTimes IS NOT your friend...

Today's online edition features an 'article' by James C McKinley Jr. and Antonio Betancourt about recent attacks on natural gas lines by the 'shadowy' (sic.) Ejército Popular Revolucionario (EPR). The article, whose source is all but exclusively a federal prosecutor, alleges that the EPR is a glorified kidnapping ring before coming out with this gem:

"Mexican law enforcement officials say the guerrillas are using the men’s disappearance as a pretext to destabilize Mexico and set off a leftist revolution. The bombings, they theorize, probably stem from anger among radical leftists over the federal crackdown on violent political protests in Oaxaca last year and the outcome of the presidential election, in which the leftist candidate narrowly lost."

Okay, aside from the fact that i'm STILL scratching my head as to what exactly a 'leftist revolution' means (I mean, come on, the democratic canidates in the US practically say more of substance than that...), is the blatant smear on the APPO. This is is textbook media manipulation 101. By calling the protests of the summer and fall of 2006 'violent' one immediately conjures in their head the image of black masked anarchist testosterone machines duking it out with cops like a bunch of gringo highschool football players.

In other words, one gets the completely wrong impression.

What really happened was a group of teachers' unions, most prominently Section 22 of the SNTE (Sindicato Naciónal de Trabajadores Educativas), who were occupying the zocalo (or town square) were forcibly removed by the municipal police in June of 2006.

(The zocalo is traditionally the centerpoint of any Mexican city's political and economic culture, not to mention just a damn nice place to eat an ear of corn and watch children play -- traditionally in Mexico, when a group or party or assembly of aggrieved persons wishers their voices to be heard, they occupy the zocalo of their city. The zocalo in the center of the captial, D.F., for example, is occupied by parties of all stripes more often than it is clear enough to chase pigeons or take a photo beneath the impossibly large tricolor).

The teachers' unions, bolstered by sympathetic sectors of Oaxaqueño society at large, retook the zocalo, and kept the police completely out of the city center until November of 2006. In the course of the prolonged 'hot' and 'cold' conflict between what became the Asemblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO) and the Oaxaqueño and the Federal state, hundreds of APPO members have been injured by indiscriminate police violence and at least 15 have died (including a gringo journalist, which drew the attention of the mainstream US public for the first time in October).

This is of course a long line in misinformation and malandering on the part of the NYT. Less we forget its coverage of quasi leftist Mexican PRD candidate Andrés Manuel López Obredor during the last (fraudulent) elections in that country, its editorial line in support of the 2002 April coup in Venezuela, its repeated (and often fabricated) denunciations against Chávez written directly from the poshest sectors of Caracas...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Venezuelan Government Overrun with Stinking Hippies

President Hugo Chávez raised eyebrows the world over when he announced recently that Venezuela would change the time here to bring the 'legal' day in line with the 'natural' one (obviously, when a country changes the clocks once or, say, twice annually, it MUST be run by some strange Kim Jong-il/Michael Jackson freak-o-dictator hybrid).

I was personally looking quite forward to the day, September 23, when i'd get to sleep-in an extra half hour, as I've still yet to completely readjust my internal clocks after a recent visit to the US.

However, news came from the Neverland Ranch that the time change would in fact NOT take place this sunday (dammit) but would be moved to be more in line with the upcoming solstice. Fucking hippies. I bet the next thing will be mandatory drum circles and the world's biggest burning man.