Parting the Red Sea in Caracas

It's hard to tell what's going on in Venezuela right now. And that's if you're there. From here, it's even harder. I have several friends in Caracas, and the fog of election hampers them as much as it does me here. I've pulled together 6 points (and one photo of the Rojo Rojito, the Red Tide) I think are useful to being understanding what's happening today in Venezuela, and what will happen in a week.

A generally left-leaning clearinghouse for information and reporting-editorializing can be found at

1. The opposition exists: On Saturday November 25th, hundreds of thousands of supporters of Manuel Rosales took to the streets. Many opposition supporters think that that the elections will be rigged to give Chavez victory. According to Michael Fox's article on the site "Massive Rosales Rally Marks the End of Opposition Electoral Campaign", Rosales said in his hour long speech after the march:

"“You know what all of the true polls say today, the scientifically elaborated, not the bought, or the manipulated, the polls say that within a few days, Venezuela will have a new President for the new social democracy"

2. Support for Chavez is quite strong: on Sunday the 26th, a notably large March filled the east side of Caracas, the Red Tide, or Rojo Rojito (see attached photo) I wasn't able to find any estimates anywhere of the numbers of people, just that it was huge. An Associated Press poll on Thursday 24th showed Chavez ahead with 59%

3. The Poorest in the Balance: Any visitor to Venezuela, especially to the poorer areas, will see concrete evidence of long term social spending infrastructure - alternative schools in most communities for those who never graduated, low cost grocery stores filled with products from Venezuelan farmers, and 24 hour health modules within a 15 minute walk from anywhere. Critics, when they speak about the facts of this social infrastructure at all, refer somewhat glibly and cynically to "buying votes". These concrete foundations for developing and organizing poorer communities have generated a lot of support - in the same way that corporate tax cuts, I imagine, are also buying the votes of the wealthy class in the US. But if you want to see true vote buying, take a look at Rosales' main alternative to Chavez's social programs: "Mi Negra" (My little black thing") This proposal would give poor and middle class families in need a debit card, which would be connected to a personal bank account where they would receive $280 and $460 per month for a family. This would be funded from oil money, which now funds the social welfare and infrastructure changes. Not only does this seem to be directly buying votes, but it is the clearest example of the idea of how the state would change the situation of the underprivileged - when a capitalist mindset fixes on it, the best it can do to provide assistance, is put money into banks (whether state or private), and just give out money. It's true that this would be cheaper to deliver, less bureaucracy. But many social goods are difficult to deliver - like keeping TB rates down, or fixing sewers - without a priority setting organization of some sort - individuals with a 10-spot in their pocket are going to focus on food and personal amenities, and paying off bills - probably some ice-cold Polars, while the local infrastructure further deteriorates.

4. Sometimes, the Relampago strikes twice in the same place: The US government, through the National Endowment for Democracy has been implicated in the April, 2002 coup, and at the ballot box. There's suspicion it will happen again. Chris Carlson, in upside-down world details the US role in electoral modification

"First, they need to build up popular support for the opposition candidate, Manuel Rosales, by designing an attractive campaign...

'The second step has been to use the mass media to create the perception that the elections are fraudulent...

' Finally, they must get enough people out into the streets in order to create a situation in which a transition of power could take place."

5. The country is polarized, hence, it's a living democracy: if my experience holds, and some friends are accurate barometers, a lot of people are worried about what might happen. The attempted coup in 2002 came when political tensions were very high, and very polarized, as they are now. It resulted in several deaths of opposition marchers at puente llaguno, that was first blamed on Chavez loyal police, and later widely recognized to be a set up, likely to be assassins firing into the crowd to generate the required instability to set the stage for Chavez's kidnapping. People know that violence can happen there. But all of this made Venezuela feel like one of the most vibrant democracies I've ever seen. I'm not in love with the state, and clearly, Venezuela has a strong charismatic leader in charge of a ship of state. But, very few people have no opinion, and they are engaged. Very few will have stayed at home in this weekend of marches.

6. There's a lot of weird analysis out there: You can find Chavez-loving analysis that doesn't really say too much, for sure. But if you want near head-wobbling spin, many mainstream papers around the world will provide it for you. One good example, the Bangkok Post, by Charles Tannock and Fernando Gibasi:

"Since his election in 1998, Mr Chavez has made confrontation and incitement to violence his primary political tools. He has engaged in blatant cheque-book diplomacy by giving away, with little to show for it, Venezuela's oil resources to countries like Cuba."

"For many years, Venezuela had excellent relations with its neighbours, without having to buy their friendship. But Mr Chavez unjustifiably vilified many of them including neighbouring Colombia, which is one reason why his push to gain for Venezuela the Latin American seat on the United Nations Security Council was recently blocked." Any mention here of good relations with argentina, brazil, bolivia, ecuador? Any mention of the relationship between Colombian policy and the US? or that the other candidate for the security council seat was the US supported Guatemala?

"the next government will need, above all, to kick-start the economy in a sustainable way to create a positive climate of job creation, which is the only lasting remedy for the poverty Mr Chavez has sought to exploit."

"President Chavez has opposed free-trade agreements and has proposed a mutant trade association he calls ALBA" I guess it's a "mutant" trade association if it's proposed by and promotes Latin American regional trading, but legitimate if it brings cash out of Latinized America into the hands of US corporations? One persons mutant is another person's development, I guess.

"But it is within Venezuela itself that a Rosales government would make its most profound changes. Instead of spending money on armaments, as Mr Chavez has done, Mr Rosales plans to redistribute 20% of Venezuela's national oil revenue directly to citizens in the lowest income groups. People who previously depended on various government handouts, which were often allocated on the basis of political favouritism, would be empowered to decide directly for themselves how they spend the resources provided to them by the state."


patrik angstrom poore

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey