“Venezuela 2007 is Chile 1988”

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Vote NO print ad by the Carabobo State Chamber of Industry (CIEC). See Venezuela: “The New Constitution Will Cost You Your Job and Your Home.” Click to zoom

Venezuela: Cuando la democracia es sí o no (Proceso, Mexico). Analysis of why Uncle Hugo the Bolivarian Blowhard lost the referendum.

This while the heroic opinion-makers of the Brazilian Big 3 were scrambling to explain the nonexistent fact that Uncle Hugo had won the referendum.

See also

A follow-up to

“Venezuela 2007 is Chile 1973″

I had a curious dream about the Venezuelan referendum the other night, by the way.

If I had had it before the referendum, I might even be able to claim prophetic powers. But I did not. Too bad. It would have made a good story. “Colin Brayton dreams the future!” I could replace Jim Kramer on CNBC. See also

I was playing a video game in which I was in a race against Hugo Chávez. We were both driving red VW beetles. We had to steer through a Pac Man-like obstacle course to reach the ultimate goal of the game, which was known as “The Vat.”

“The Vat”? Yes, “The Vat.” Do not ask me why. I have not the faintest. Value-added tax? Vat 69 malt liquor? The “brain in a vat” thought-experiment from my old philosophy of science courses?

Hugo was making angry noises at me the whole time, shaking his fist out the window of his veedub like Bluto, from the old Popeye cartoons. Which unnerved me, but also amused me.

We both reached “The Vat” at the same time. The trick was to find and activate a secret feature in one’s car that would allow one to retrieve something from inside “The Vat.” I am not even sure what that Something was.

Both of us were searching high and low on our cars to find the right button to push. Suddenly, I remembered: I made a note of something very similar to this a while back. I fired up my laptop, ran a search, and found that note.

It worked. My car morphed into a Transformer, and retrieved the Something from The Vat. Game over.

Hugo was actually very gracious in defeat. He smiled, slapped me on the back, and said, “Well, after all, this is only a game (dream).” He offered to buy the beer (Vat 69?). I was laughing. I felt really happy. (I asked Hugo for a rain check on that beer, though. When Bluto starts to make nice, it’s watch out, Popeye! The man is out to steal your girl.)

Seriously. I dreamed that. Not that I can prove it — it all happened inside my skull, where no one else could see it — but sincerely. I did dream that.

México, D.F., 9 de diciembre (apro).- La noche del 5 de octubre de 1988 Augusto Pinochet no podía creerlo. Había perdido con un rotundo “no” el plebiscito al que él mismo había convocado para extender ocho años más su mandato. Lo mismo le ocurrió el 25 de febrero de 1990 al gobierno sandinista de Niacaragua, que si bien llamó a elecciones generales, lo hizo con la certeza de que iba a ganar. Ahora le tocó el turno a Hugo Chávez quien, aunque por estrecho margen, se enteró de que, por lo menos la mitad de los venezolanos, no quiere su proyecto “socialista”, ni a él indefinidamente en el poder.

On the night of October 5, 1988, Augusto Pinochet could not believe it. He had lost the referendum he himself had called, on extending his rule by eight more years, to a resounding NO. The same thing occurred in 1990 during the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, which called general elections it was confident it would win. Now it is the turn of Hugo Chávez, who, albeit by a narrow margin, has learned that at least half of Venzuelans do not want his “socialist” project, nor Hugo indefinitely in power.

Actually, absentions loomed larger than either YES or NO, I think. What I hear they are calling the “neither-nor” option. Which our analyst touches upon below.

Concebida como una consulta popular para asuntos puntuales, la figura del plebiscito o referéndum no pocas veces se ha convertido en un ejercicio electoral que define gobiernos o, más aún, sistemas de gobierno. El problema es que la opción de voto se reduce a un simple “sí” o “no”, que no refleja la variedad de matices que implica una propuesta política amplia. Así, aunque el votante esté de acuerdo con unos puntos y con otros no –y eso si los conoce–, finalmente tiene que decidirse en bloque por aquello que más pese en su ánimo.

Conceived as a popular consultation on specific issues, the referendum or plebiscite has often been transformed into an electoral exercise that defines who governs, or even more, that defines systems of government. The problem is that the option is reduced to a simple YES or NO, which does not reflect the variety of scenarios that such a broad proposal implies. Thus, even if the voter agrees with some points and not others — and even knows what those points are — in the end he will have to vote for, or against, those propositions as a block, depending on which the voter finds less worrisome.

En el caso de Pinochet, los chilenos ciertamente no tuvieron tantas dudas. Después de quince años de una dictadura que ejerció una brutal represión e introdujo un modelo económico polarizante, los votantes se sumaron de buen grado al movimiento por el “no”, encabezado por una amplia alianza de los partidos de oposición. Hay que decir que siete años antes, en otro plebiscito realizado en 1981 para aprobar la nueva Constitución del régimen militar, 60 por ciento del electorado se pronunció a favor.

In the case of Pinochet, the voters of Chile certainly had no doubts. After 15 years of a dictatorship that employed brutal repression and introduced a polarizing economic model, voters flocked to the NO movement, headed by a broad alliance of opposition parties. It should be remembered that six years before, in another plebiscite held in 1981 to approve the new constitution of the military regime, 60 percent voted in favor.

Como quiera que sea, en 1988 la Junta Militar reconoció su derrota y convocó a elecciones presidenciales para el año siguiente. Pero Pinochet se cobró este reconocimiento. Demandó nuevas reformas a la Constitución que restringían los poderes del gobierno civil; obstaculizaban el ascenso de la izquierda; acortaban el periodo presidencial; aseguraban un cierto número de legisladores designados, y convertían a los expresidentes, es decir a Pinochet mismo, en “senadores vitalicios”, lo que les garantizaba inmunidad de por vida. Estas reformas fueron aprobadas en un nuevo referéndum, en julio de 1989.

In any event, in 1988, the Junta admitted defeat and called presidential elections for the following year. It demanded new Constitutional reforms that would restrict the powers of the civilian government; it put barriers in the path of the ascendant left; it cut the presidential term of office; it granted itself a fixed number of legislators and declared ex-Presidents — that is to say, Pinochet — to be “Senators for life,” which guaranteed them parliamentary immunity for life as well. These reforms were approved in a new referendum in July 1989.

En Nicaragua la disyuntiva no fue tan clara. Eran las segundas elecciones generales desde que, en 1979, el Frente Sandinista destronó a la dinastía de los Somoza. En 1984, el FSLN se alzó con el 67 por ciento de los votos y, seis años después, pese al desgaste del gobierno, crecientes indicios de autoritarismo y corrupción, guerra y deterioro económico, los sandinistas seguían despertando el fervor popular y llenando plazas. Estaban seguros de su triunfo e, inclusive, las encuestas preelectorales así lo indicaban.

In Nicaragua, the disjunction was less clear. These were the second general elections since the Sandistas overthrew Somoza dynasty in 1979. In 1984, the FSLN got 67% of the vote, and then, six years later, despite great disillusionment with the government, growing signs of authoritariansm and corruption, war and economic deterioration, the Sandinistas were still able to awaken popular fervor, filling the public squares. They were certain of their triumph, and the pre-election polls even indicated a victory.

Los comicios no pretendían ser un refréndum, pero lo fueron. Más allá de sus simpatías, los nicaragüenses se vieron frente a la disyuntiva de seguir o no con el bloqueo económico, la guerra con los Contras y el reclutamiento militar obligatorio. A última hora prefirieron votar por la oposición, encabezada por Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, que ganó con una cómoda diferencia de 14 puntos porcentuales. El entonces presidente Daniel Ortega aceptó la derrota y entregó el poder, aunque no sin antes firmar un “Protocolo de Transición”, que comprometía al nuevo gobierno a respetar la Constitución y las conquistas sociales de la revolución sandinista.

Those elections were not meant to be a referendum, but in practice they were. Beyond their political sympathies, Nicaraguans found themselves faced with a chance to vote no on the economic blockade, the war with the Contras, and compulsory military service. At the last minute, they preferred to vote for the opposition and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, who won with a comfortable margin of 14 percent. Then president Ortega accepted defeat and handed over power, though not without first signing a “transition protocol” that committed the new government to respect the Constitution and the social conquests of the Sandinista revolution.

Hugo Chávez lo hizo mucho más complicado. Su mandato no estaba sujeto a discusión, ya que éste había quedado asegurado hasta 2013 en una elección previa. Lo que el mandatario venezolano hizo, en realidad, fue someter a consulta un proyecto de nación. El problema es que, además de un número excesivamente alto de reformas a ser votadas para un ejercicio de esta naturaleza, en ellas mezcló una serie de propuestas sociales muy atendibles, con otras que simple y llanamente le conferían un poder ilimitado e indefinido. Y, en este punto, el referéndum se convirtió en un “sí” o un “no” al propio Chávez, que perdió.

Chávez did it in a much more complicated way. His mandate was not at issue, given that he had already been elected to serve until 2013. What he did, in reality, was to submit a project for the nation to the vote. The problem is that, besides the fact that an excessively large number of reforms were to be voted on for an exercise of this type, among which were social proposals that were very doable, others quite simply and obviously conferred unlimited and indefinite powers on him. On this point, the referendum turned into a YES or NO on Chávez himself, who lost.

La paradoja del reférendum

The paradox of the referendum

Al igual que Pinochet y Ortega que, no osbtante admitir su derrota maniobraron para dar continuidad a su proyecto político, pese al “no”, Chávez buscará la forma de sacar adelante su iniciativa de transformar a Venezuela en una república socialista, con la ventaja de que a él todavía le quedan cinco años en el poder y que una Ley Habilitante, aprobada en enero pasado, le permite legislar por decreto por lo menos hasta junio de 2008. La convocatoria a una Asamblea Constituyente también podría reabrir la puerta a su anhelada reelección.

Just like Pinochet and Ortega, who, although admitting defeat, maneuvered for the continuity of their political project, despite the NO vote, Chávez will try to carry forward his project for transforming Venezuela into a socialist republic, with the advantage of still having five years in office and an “enabling law” approved last January that lets him legislate by decree until at least June 2008. The convocation of a constituent assembl might also reopen the door to the indefinite reelection he seeks.

With opposition participation — they boycotted the last Congressional election, which I still cannot get my head around — and the (wise, gringo-invented) two-thirds rule: doubtful, you would think.

La paradoja del referéndum –o de las elecciones que cobran este carácter– que constituye el ejercicio democrático por antonomasia, al ser una consulta directa al pueblo, es que puede convertirse en un subterfugio para avalar prácticas profundamente antidemocráticas, según lo que se someta a votación. No pocos gobiernos autoritarios, independientemente de su signo ideológico, lo han utilizado para “legitimar” sus políticas y su estancia en el poder.

The paradox of referenda — or elections that have this characteristics — which are democratic almost by definition, because they consult voters directly, is that they can become a subterfuge for shoring up deeply antidemocratic practices, which are submitted to a vote. Not a few authoritarian governments, regardless of their ideological polarity, have used them to “legitimate”their policies and prolong their hold on power.

Wanderley dos Santos here in Brazil has an excellent discussion of this paradox: Let me see if I can find that.

La reelección indefinida, una práctica intrínsecamente antidemocrática por muy bueno que sea un gobernante y que, sin duda, constituyó el meollo de la derrota de Chávez, ha sido ejercida en todo el mundo, pero ha dejado experiencias particularmente negativas en América Latina. En México mismo se tiene el antecedente de Porfirio Díaz, quien se reeligió varias veces durante casi 30 años, hasta que la revolución maderista lo derribó. Inclusive, los 71 años de priato fueron una variante de esta misma práctica, ya que si bien no se reeligió ningún presidente, sí lo hizo una sola “familia política”.

Indefinite reelection, an intrinsically antidemocratic pratice, no matter how good a government might be, and which, there is no doubt, is at the heart of Chávez’s defeat, has been used throughout the world, but has yielded especially negative results in Latin America. In Mexico, you have the precedent of Porfírio Diaz, who was reelected over and over for almost thirty years, until the Madera revolution overthrew him.

Had Pancho Villa taken out and shot. Wept at his funeral. The dictator of the fictional Eldorado in Glauber Rocha’s Terra em Transe — rent this! — is named Porfirio Diaz.

And the 71 years of PRI hegemony were a variant on this practice, for, though presidents were not reelected, the presidency was held by a single “political family.”

Don’t forget the Colorado Party in poor, suffering Paraguay — than which only being Peruvian or Bolivian might possibly suck as much.

Dinastías familiares como los Somoza en Nicaragua o los Duvalier en Haití se heredaron así el poder durante decenios y, en Paraguay, Alfredo Stroessner se “reeligió” siete veces entre 1954 y 1989; todos fueron desplazados por acciones armadas. Recientemente, en Perú, Alberto Fujimori intentó, en 2000, quedarse por un tercer periodo mediante elecciones amañadas, pero un movimiento civil lo obligó a huir. Del otro lado del espectro está Cuba, donde un solo partido ha gobernado desde 1959 y Fidel Castro se ha reelegido como presidente desde 1976 y, ahora, pese a su edad y su enfermedad, pretende volverlo a hacer.

Family dynasties like the Somozas in Nicaragua or the Duvaliers of Haiti inherited power for decades, while in Paraguay, Stroessner was “reelected” seven times between 1954 and 1989. In Peru, Fujimori tried in 2000 to remain in power for a third term, but a civil movement obliged hi to flee the country.

He’s back, and on trial.
On the other end of the spectrum is Cuba, which has been governed by a single party since 1959, and Castro has been reelected president since 1976 — and now, despite age and infirmity, plans to do so again.

En la propia Venezuela, el dictador Marcos Pérez Jiménez, que llegó a la presidencia en 1952 a lomos de una junta militar y en 1958 pretendió reelegirse para un segundo periodo, fue derrocado por un movimiento cívico-militar. Y el fallido golpe que encabezó el mismo Chávez en febrero de 1992, fue dirigido contra la segunda gestión presidencial de Carlos Andrés Pérez, aunque ésta no se dio en forma sucesiva, sino con un intervalo de 10 años.

In Venezuela itself, the dictatory Pérez Jiménez, who became President in 1952 as part of a military junta and in 1958 tried to win a second term, was defeated by civil-military coalition. The failed coup headed by Chávez himself in 1992 was directed against the second administration of Carlos Andrés Pérez, though this second term came, not successively, but after an interval of 10 years.

Kind of like Alan Garcia in Peru, right? Who defeated the colonel who rebelled, uselessly but with great flair, against the Fujimori self-coup. Garcia, who has, in fact, suspended the constitution in parts of the country already.

A lo largo de los nueve años que lleva en el poder, Hugo Chávez, por su parte, ha buscado refrendar sus políticas y su mandato siempre por la vía de las urnas. Se ha reelegido ya dos veces mediante elecciones generales (2000 y 2006) y en 2004 sometió su presidencia a un refréndum revocatorio. También la nueva Constitución fue votada en diciembre de 1999. En total, entre consultas nacionales, regionales y locales, el chavismo ha realizado 12 y, hasta ahora, todas las había ganado.

In his 9 years in power, Hugo Chávez, has consistently sought to gain popular support for his policies and mandate through the vote. He has been democratically reelected twice (2000 and 2006) and in 2004 submitted his presidency to a recall vote. The new Constitution was voted on in December 1999. In all, among national, local and regional votes, the Chávez movement has held 12 — and won every single one of them, until now.

Pero el 2 de diciembre pasado algo cambió, porque más allá de que el “no” ganó con un mínimo pero indudable 1.5 por ciento, Chávez perdió alrededor de tres millones de votos respecto de las elecciones del año pasado y, sobre todo, el abstencionismo alcanzó un 44 por ciento del electorado, del que no se sabe si está en contra o sólo se negó a participar, lo que de todos modos habla de una erosión del entusiasmo popular.

But something changed on December 2, 2007. Besides that fact that NO won by a bare, but unimpeachable, 1.5%, Chávez lost some 3 million votes since last year’s elections. Above all, abstentions reached 44% of eligible voters, among whom it is not known whether they were against the reforms or simply refused to particpate, but which in any event bespeak an erosion of popular enthusiasm.

I kind of like the “Chávez is Bush” hypothesis: “What are you messing with Iran for? Deal with Katrina!” Nothing removes a revolutionary from his pedestal faster than the need to collect the garbage efficiently.

Aunque el presidente venezolano ya echó a perder el reconocimiento de su derrota al calificar la victoria de sus oponentes como “de mierda”, admitió también que probablemente no era el momento de someter a consulta su proyecto de “socialismo del siglo XXI” para el país. En realidad, no fue el momento ni la forma ni el fondo.

Though the Venezuelan president has already thrown his acknowledgement of defeat by characterizing the victory of NO as “a shitty little victory,” he has also admitted that this was probably not the moment to submit his project for “21st century socialism” to a vote. In reality, it was neither the moment nor the proper form nor the proper conditions.

Seguramente engolosinado con su triunfo de hace un año, Chávez pensó que había llegado la hora de emprender de lleno la transformación política de Venezuela. Pero no contó con que esos mismos comicios que ratificaron su liderazgo, también reagruparon a la oposición, que aprendió la lección de no mantenerse al margen de estos ejercicios electorales, lo que previamente le costó quedarse fuera inclusive de la Asamblea Nacional.

Likely pumped up by last year’s triumph, Chávez thought the time had arrived for the political transformation of Venezuela. But he did not count on the fact that the same electorate that had ratified his leadership had also helped reorganize the opposition, which its lesson after staying on the sidelines after those elections, which had excluded it from the National Assembly.

Hard to understand, that decision, though the Bolivian separatists are trying the same thing. It sends the message: “We, your social superiors in every way, are the only people in this crappy little country fit to run things, and are not willing to negotiate on that point.”

Pero en medio hubo otro acontecimiento. En mayo pasado, el gobierno chavista decidió no renovar la concesión a Radio Caracas Televisión, la segunda cadena del país, que desde el principio practicó un activismo mediático en su contra y documentadamente participó en el golpe de abril de 2002. Esto no sólo dejó un tufo a autoritarismo y censura, sino que privó a muchos venezolanos de escasos recursos de uno de sus pocos entretenimientos. Generó, además, un fuerte movimiento estudiantil que fue menospreciado y que, sin duda, jugó ahora un papel clave en la promoción del “no”.

But there was another event as well in the meantime.

RCTV. The student organizing around that was effective, and carried over. “… it also deprived many poor Venezuelans of one of their only entertainments.” It would not have been hard to find something better to provide the same entertainment, but apparently TVes, which tried to be some kind of Bolivarian PBS — symphony concerts rather than soap operas — did not manage it.

La forma tampoco fue la ideal porque los temas sujetos a votación eran excesivos. A los 33 artículos que propuso Chávez, la Asamblea Nacional les sumó otros 36, con lo que eran 69 los cambios constitucionales en juego; tantos, que especialistas opinaron que hubiera sido mejor convocar a una Asamblea Constituyente para elaborar una nueva Constitución, con una agravante: que el proceso se llevó a cabo en forma cupular y secreta, y al electorado sólo se le dieron tres semanas para digerir toda esa información.

I am getting tired of translating this. Learn Spanish. The grammar and vocabulary are easy to learn. Trains yourself by watching lots of Univision, Telemundo and “Ugly Betty” in the original, with closed captioning on. Listen to lots of records by Los Tigres Del Norte, while reading along with the lyrics sheet.

En este contexto, los puntos que saltaron a la luz, no exentos de rumores y manipulación mediática, fueron los referentes a la implantación del socialismo y los poderes omnímodos de Chávez, un error de fondo de éste, al colocar dos temas tan sensibles en una misma canasta. Apostó todo y perdió todo. Justamente los riesgos de plantear una sola disyuntiva entre un “sí” y un “no”.

[tktktktktk]

Desde luego, el indómito presidente bolivariano no se quedará de brazos cruzados. Ya anunció que volverá a presentar su propuesta, pero en forma “simplificada”. Por su parte, Evo Morales, en Bolivia, y Rafael Correa, en Ecuador, ya se aprestan a realizar un ejercicio semejante. Ojalá este antecedente les haya dejado a los tres alguna lección.

The indomitable Bolivarian president will not sit on the sidelines for long. He has already announced he will present his proposal again, but in a “simplified” form. For their part, Morales in Bolivia and Correa in Ecuardo are preparing a similar exercise. Hopefully this precedent will have taught all three of them a lesson.

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