Monday, July 18, 2005


Delenda Sumate!

Originally published here

Rome had already won two devastating wars against Carthage and had reached a compromised peace that lasted many years when senator Marcus Cato started a pro-war campaign with one persisting idea:

“Delenda Carthago!”.

It meant, that, no matter what, Rome would never be safe unless the rival phoenician city of Carthage was totally destroyed. For years, with a stubbornness that was noted even after centuries of history, Cato repeated over and over that Carthage had to disappear. He actually finished every intervention about any topic with the famous sentence.

Publicity is always effective. In the end, Cato’s message was heard and Rome decided to go for what was called the third Punic war. Once Carthage had finished paying all the old tributes to Rome, the latest imposed new and tougher conditions to provoke a new conflictive situation. As expected, Carthage’s inhabitants were mad of rage when they knew the new absurd conditions imposed by Rome and the war restarted again.

It was a tough and dirty war, even for those times, Carthage inhabitants resisted as much as they could but the Romans kept the fight. They had just one objective in mind: thoroughly destroy Carthage.

After three bloody years of continuous fights, Rome reached its objective in such an effective way, that there was nobody left from Carthage to formally surrender. Some say that they even throw salt to the defeated city so that it would never be born again. For the first time in their history, the Romans had failed to incorporate the culture of the conquered city, as there was no culture, history or customs left. To this day, we do not know more about Carthage and its inhabitants because of the unusual Roman will to destroy it..

Ironically, Carthage’s destruction did not prevent the decline of Rome, but rather accelerated it. Some historians claim that this was because it gave the Romans a false sense of security. Others say that the destruction of Rome had already started from within, with the decline of the traditional Roman values that were being heavily influenced by the greek ways of life. Some even say that Cato used Carthage as a diversion, consciously knowing that the real menace to the Roman way of life came from Greece.

After reading this fascinating story, I thought of the similarities between the Sumate persecution by the Chavez government and the insistence of Cato to destroy Carthage.

Chavez was a military man and it is still today a military man. In his quest towards absolute power, he has been treating Venezuelan institutions as if they were “the enemy”. An enemy that had to be controlled and beaten.

He has been extremely successful.

His success is due in part to the clumsy and inefficient opposition, in part because nobody believed that he could go that far and still pretend that he was a democratic ruler. Finally and foremost, because Venezuela had weak institutions to start with.

No matter the reason of Chavez’s success, there was a new type of enemy in town that Chavez was not used to fight: Sumate.

The origin of Sumate is, to say the least, unusual. In a country where the civil society was not used to have its voice heard, suddenly there was a civil group that organized itself to literally prevent a civil war in Venezuela. They found the democratic exit to the terrible polarization crisis that was lived in Venezuela.

It was an exit that any democratic leader would have welcome: a recall Referendum, guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution; let the people decide.

But Chavez government was not happy at all about it and did all the possible tricks to avoid going to a Referendum. Sumate organized a signature collection, not once, but three times! (see Daniel’s excellent summary here). They were systematic and efficient and used Chavez’s own weapon: the 1999 Chavista Constitution to lead the fight.

A few months before the Referendum took place, Sumate persecution started. It was Chavez itself who, like Cato in the Senate, initiated it by talking in his Sunday TV program about the NED funding. But the Chavista government is, in matters of political persecution, much more effective than the Roman government. It did not take years to initiate the “Delenda Sumate” campaign. The very next day, the Sumate directive was charged by the government attorneys.

I do not think that the funding was illegal. The money was a small grant to organize courses to promote democratic awareness. However, if the money had indeed been illegal, then the government should have fined Sumate and asked them to reimburse it. End of it.

But, according to Chavez, Sumate delenda est! The government had to put all its weight and influence to discredit Sumate and to take its directive to court for …no less than treason!

They dusted a very old article of the very archaic Venezuelan penal code to state that Sumate was destroying “the Republican form” of the government. Thanks to a convoluted interpretation that nobody in his right mind would accept, receiving the small grant from the NED resulted in being charged for treason and risking up to 16 years in jail.

And, by the way, we are talking about Venezuelan prisons.

The attack was not directed towards the institution. It was personally aimed at the four highest members of Sumate: Maria Corina Machado, Alejandro Plaz, Ricardo Estevez and Luis Enrique Palacios. The four young engineers that had dared to create a new form of resistance in Venezuela. Chavez idea must have been to kill two birds with one stroke: eliminate the head of the enemy and intimidate anyone that would ever attempt to carry out the type of dissension that Sumate was leading.

Delenda Sumate!

Meanwhile, since the Referendum, the mighty Chavez government has been taking over whatever was left of the democratic institutions of the country. In particular, the judiciary system, that has never been a model of independence, has been revamped to have only judges blindly committed to Chavez. I hope that Sumate is cleared, but the hope is closer to wishful thinking.

So, there is a high probability that, in the end, Sumate will be destroyed, and that the Chavez goverment will have thrown salt to the Sumate office created by a small group of unlikely democratic heroes.

Maybe, like some historians suspected, Chavez, like Cato, is using Sumate as a diversion. Maybe he is really committed to attack this new type of enemy that resists his controlling expansion or maybe he just do not know how to govern without having an enemy in front of him. In any case, it is clear that Chavez has not learned the lessons from Rome.The Romans flourished while they incorporated the good features of the foreign cultures into their own. The anhilation of Carthage was the beginning of the end. Conversely, Chavez has not understood that he needs the culture of Sumate to be integrated to the democratic values of his government. He does not understand either that it is good for his government to have a democratic watchdog like Sumate in his backyard.

Chavez has not realized that his enemy is not Sumate. His enemy, like in Rome, comes from within: his own inefficiency and his own message of hatred and division that have transformed the country and led it to the brink of civil war.

He can ask his followers to “Delenda Sumate” as much as he wants and like the Romans, he might win the last Punic war.

But, in the end, like Rome, he will be defeated.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Sumate goes to trial

[Originally published in The Devil's Excrement]

The judge reached a decision: SUMATE directive will go to trial (see also here), but they will not be in jail during the trial. According to Alejandro Plaz, the judge accepted all the evidence presented by the goverment and rejected almost all the evidence presented by SUMATE. In particular, some of the recommendations made by the Supreme Court in their November decision were not taken into account. Maria Corina Machado said that this is a form of intimidation to prevent SUMATE from keeping their campaign of education to have clean elections in Venezuela.

I agree with her. The goverment will do whatever it can to intimidate SUMATE, which is currently the only effective opposition movement in Venezuela.

SUMATE, BTW is just asking what in any democratic country is taken for granted. It can be enumerated in five points:

1.- A reliable electoral registry
2.- Overall audits
3.- Secret vote
4.- Manual counting
5.- Effective observers

So, if you are in Venezuela, show that you care about your five fingers.

Jorge Arena.

9:09:24 PM

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Sumate preliminary hearing takes place

[Originally published in The Devil's Excrement]

After being postponed five times since September, the preliminary hearing to decide whether there will be a trial or not against the Sumate directive took place today. The judge will decide tomorrow if the trial will take place and in which conditions.

Note that despite that the Supreme Court indicated that in the event of a trial, the accused should be free, the Fiscal in charge of the case is asking that the Sumate directive be put in jail during the trial....

Yeah, right, they are such DANGEROUS criminals that the society is in REAL danger having Maria Corina and Alejandro Plaz walking the streets of Caracas!

27 military masked police officers wandering around with machine guns are OK...but Maria Corina! that's a no-no, she is a real threat!

I'll keep you posted.
Jorge Arena.

4:46:36 PM

Sunday, July 03, 2005


Some thoughts on Chavez’s “Magnicidios”

[Originally published in The Devil's excrement]

When I was young, I was fascinated by the story of “Pedro y el Lobo” (Peter's Crying Wolf). I found it was a terrible story, and yet, with the passing of time, I have been able to learn from it and to wisely put in practice the lesson portrayed in the story. Unfortunately, the Venezuelan President does not seem to have learned that lesson at all. Since he got into power, Chavez has systematically stated that he is about to be killed, that there are people outside and inside Venezuela plotting to take his life. He has even introduced a very elegant term to indicate the event of his assassination. He has called it a “Magnicidio”.

My first thought is on the term itself and why it is used.

I must admit with a bit of shame that I did not quite know the meaning of the word “Magnicidio” until Chavez started using it. It was only then that I took the time to check the dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy to get the precise meaning of the term. Here is what I found:


(Del lat. magnus, grande, y -cidio).

1. m. Muerte violenta dada a persona muy importante por su cargo o poder.

According to this definition “magnicidio” means the “violent death given to a very important person due to his/her position or power”.

The term is vague, to say the least. How does one define “a very important person due to his position or power”? Secondly, I was puzzled that the term had not been widely used before in the Venezuelan Press to designate the assassination of someone important. I do not recall having read or heard that term for the original news of the assassinations of John (1963) and Robert (1968) Kennedy, Martin Luther King (1968) , Anwar El Sadat (1981), Indira Ghandi (1984), Olof Palme (1986), Rajiv Ghandi (1991), Yitzhak Rabin (1995) or Anna Lindh (2003), to mention just a few. I searched the archives of Venezuelan newspapers to know for sure if the killings of those political figures were just tagged as “assassinations” by the Venezuelan Press or if the word “magnicidio” was employed at the time.

Unfortunately, the on-line archives do not go that further back. I was only able to get the original on-line news of the Anna Lindh assassination. As you can see, there is no mentioning of the word “Magnicidio” referring to her assassination. Of course, Chavistas may argue that Anna Lindh was just the Swedish Foreign minister and had been only President of the European Union and candidate to succeed the Swedish Prime Minister…maybe she was not important enough, not compared to Chavez, of course…

So, if you have access to the original Venezuelan newspapers on the assassinations of any of the above mentioned leaders, please let me know. I would really like to know the exact term that was used when the news of those assassinations were printed.

My guess is that it was the Chavistas themselves that dusted and tagged the old term and that the Venezuelan Press followed, falling into their trap. According to the Chavistas, Chavez should not be considered like your everyday leader. They have carefully been crafting an image of Chavez that is closer to that of a Religious figure than a modern politician (see “The Eternal Chavez”, that refers to this article of William Izarra, who is one of the leading ideologists of the Chavista movement). Thus, it is not surprising that an assassination of Chavez should be more than a normal political assassination. Then, the tagged terminology of “Magnicidio”, carefully repeated over and over in Alo Presidente and the other official media outlets, has become a current term, specifically used to designate the assassination of a supreme leader: Chavez.

My second thought refers to the number of times an eventual Magnicidio have been in the news.

I was about to initiate a research on that point when I found this article by Elizabeth Fuentes. Luckily she had already carried out the facts digging work. According to her article, the chronology and accounting of the magnicidio story can be summarized as follows:

1998. - The magnicidio was denounced eight times

1999. - There were six instances of magnicidio callings

2000. - The possibility of a magnicidio was announced eight times again.

2001. - Five times was a magnicidio plot denounced.

2002. - Only one case is reported.

2003. - At least two cases were announced.

2004. - This year too, at least two cases of magnicidio were reported.

Ms. Fuentes stops her research in 2004, but there have been already several reports of Magnicidio in 2005. I did a quick search on El Universal archives a few days ago and, starting on January 1st 2005, there had been 145 articles about a Chavez magnicidio! The latest, are the suspension of the June 24 Independence parade due to a supposed complot to kill the president (see also here) and the amazing declarations of Fiscal Isaias Rodriguez indicating that Danilo Anderson’s murder was nothing more than a “trial” for the magnicidio (see here and my comments here).

The question is why? Why does Chavez need to constantly get out the news about yet another plot for his assassination?

My feeling is, as usual, that this is a strategy to divert the attention of the Venezuelan people. The government uses the Magnicidio the same way it was believed that previous governments used some urban legends like the UFO arrivals and the extra-terrestrials announcing of the opening of the Avila Mountain. At that time, some people thought that those fantastic news were circulated on purpose to divert public opinion from political scandals or harsh economic conditions. In previous governments those urban legends were heard once in a while, whereas in the current government, the Chavez magnicidio stories are constantly brought up like breaking news by government officials.

Of course, regardless of the magic realism that Venezuelans are used to live, there has never been, in the history of Venezuela, such a circus-like political climate. Simply put it, Chavez is a terrible ruler, and he runs an extremely inefficient government, but he is a great entertainer and he has a lot of money. He has the two ingredients used by the Roman Emperors to remain popular:

“Panem et circenses”.

My last thought is on Chavez handling of the news.

Regardless of whether the Magnicidio attempts are real or not, Chavez handling of the news on that issue has been extremely irresponsible. A real leader, a true statesman puts the security of the state and of the people he is governing before anything else. A leader is someone that would prevent a panic situation, or a situation that can lead to bloodshed or civil war. Well, Chavez has done exactly the opposite. He has systematically warned people in a very public way that he might be killed soon. Moreover, he has incited the Venezuelan people to get out in the streets in the event of his death.

His behavior has been so irresponsible that a few weeks ago Chavez was not seen in public for a whole weekend, which is very unusual. The rumors started and there was already a group of angry Venezuelans outside the Presidential Palace asking to see the President (see here).

This, of course, is the same good old Chavez’s shameful and irresponsible strategy of putting Venezuelans against Venezuelans (see here). It seems that he is even determined that his legacy of hatred and division persists after he is gone.

I pray that nothing happens to him; I do not even want to imagine the terrible situation if it were otherwise.

Jorge Arena.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Students Killed in Venezuela.-Why this is not just a matter of Justice.

[Originally published in The Devil's Excrement]

I do not just want justice for the death of the three engineering students. I do not just want the policemen that killed them in jail. I do not want just the immediate police chiefs removed from their job, as ordered yesterday by Justice and Interior Minister Chacon.

What I want is the resignation of the ministers responsible of the judiciary and military police that were in charge of that despicable “police operative”. I want a serious commitment of those that would take charge that this type of police operatives will not ever happen again in Venezuela.

So far, it seems that there were two groups: the DIM (Division de Inteligencia Militar) and the CICPC (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Cientificas Penales y Criminalisticas). They depend on the Ministry of Defense and the Justice and Interior Ministry.

Yesterday, I was quite bothered by the reaction of my fellow Venezuelans. Government officials claimed to be revolted and promised that those guilty of the crime will be punished. The students’classmates asked for justice. People that witnessed the killing talked about the “incompetence” of the police. Deputies of the National Assembly talked about initiating an investigation of the killings….

But nobody hinted that there was a higher responsibility in this matter. A government has to answer to its people for nurturing police units within the State that are actually organized to disregard human rights and to kill and injure people as they wish.

This is the unique responsibility of the Government. And within the government, that responsibility lays on the Ministers responsible of the Police units involved in the massacre.

Today, reading El Nacional, I had a blink of a hope. I thought that at least someone understands what it means to live in a democracy! Today there is just one sentence, that is usually written on the lower right corner of El Nacional Opinion page. Today it was a simple question:

“¿Seis jefes y ni un ministro?” (six chiefs and no Minister?).

Whoever wrote that question made my day. Because this is not a simple matter of incompetence, not a matter of punishment, not just a matter of justice.

This case goes beyond that.

This is a matter of fundamental human rights within what should be a modern democratic state.

Jorge Arena.

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