Occam's Razor on Sabotage

Just another day at the offiice...
Just another day at the offiice…

Willie Neuman’s piece in the New York Times today on Maduro’s sabotage-obsession is a pretty good primer for people who haven’t been following the story. It bothers me a bit, though, that he barely mentions, in passing, the government’s obvious political rationale for making up outlandish tales that have no evidence to back them: deflecting blame for its own appalling record of neglect over the nation’s infrastructure.

To Venezuelans with dos dedos de frente, this is obvious, but perhaps it is less so for Willie’s readers stateside: the maintenance culture inside PDVSA and CORPOELEC has frayed badly over the last 15 years, leaving a brittle infrastructure that’s given rise to an appalling industrial safety record.

At CORPOELEC in particular, efforts to face up to the crisis have taken the form of a loosening of safeguards against corruption, leading to the Bolichicos scandals we’re all too familiar with. So not only does the National Grid suck, the billions spent to fix it are being looted.

In that context, it’s easy to see the role the Sabotage canard plays in deflecting blame, at the same time it short-circuits any chance that the government will use major accidents as a prod to beef up its prevention efforts. But if you don’t put that argument to readers, what are they supposed to just guess?

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  1. My theory is that his article did include a quote from someone pointing out that it is a mechanism for scapegoating, but that it was sabotaged by his editor, Imperio.

    • Maduro’s governing tipple of choice is as the NYT describes: “[c]onspirators are the frothy solution to every problem.” It is a bit like other great “frothy” slogans…

      Busch Beer — “Head for the mountains.”
      Budweiser Beer — “You’ve said it all.”
      Miller Lite Beer — “Tastes great; Less filling”;
      Double Diamond Beer — “Works wonders.”
      Dos Equis — “Sooner or later you’ll get it.”
      Newcastle Brown Ale — “The Other Side of Dark.”
      Corona — “Miles Away From Ordinary”
      Harp Irish Lager — “Harp puts out the fire”
      Guinness Stout — “Out of the darkness comes light.” AND “Guinness is Good for You”
      John Smith’s Bitter — “No Nonsense.”

  2. The captions and pics matched to CC posts often crack me up, and the NYT’s did a pretty good with this one: “President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela claims that sabotage caused a widespread blackout. ” Picture: cable spaghetti.

      • Cable Spaghetti tips:

        After draining the pasta, place back in the pot and drizzle Amuay sauce (a special mixture of oil, balsamic and red wine vinegars and basil) on it and fry. Remove from pan prior to exploding.

        When preparing cable spaghetti, use a gas oven/range as preparation of said pasta is prone to cause power outages.

        A nice complimentary dish is chicken milanese. Unfortunately, its much easier to locate cable spaghetti than it is chicken.

        The secret ingredient? Sabotage with a light sprinkling of espionage. Buy the CIA brand as it is so light it is pretty much unnoticeable; this according to people who claim to use it regularly. They also say it is extremely savory, but for some reason, I just don’t believe it.

  3. sorry for the blatant OT, but I need to buy some dollars, my brother was diagnosed last year with cratoconos and after several failed attempts at sitme (that supposedly gave priority with health related issues)I want to try sicad, to see if by divine luck I can get anything, for starter getting a corneologo is difficult in itself and much more to get dollars to get the cornea, any tips that might give you even a little more chance for being choosable for getting dollars will be greatly appreciated.

  4. Quico, you’re being too sensitive. The second sentence in the article, “Despite a strained power grid that has gone lacking in basic upkeep for years, [Maduro] assured Venezuelans that there could be only one cause: sabotage” is precisely a direct reference to the obvious
    explanation requiring the fewest assumptions and most likely to be correct, i.e. Occam’s Razor

      • “he’s cranked the discourse of conspiracy to an ever higher pitch”

        t’s nearly impossible to read this piece and not know what Neuman thinks about these conspiracy theories — it’s right there in all his language choices…

        it’s as mocking and skeptical as a straight news piece can get…

        here’s a game for you — try to read an article about Venezuela that doesn’t contain some reminder of how dangerous the stranglehold on media is — in this article, my choice is:

        “Of course it was sabotage,” Jesús Lira, a vegetable seller, said of the refinery explosion and blackout. “And the government should come down hard on the opposition for it.”

        Sr. Lira has nearly zero chance of being exposed to facts and information which might challenge his way of thinking.

        • You could also make a drinking game called “Sabotage or Policy” and review all the mishaps in Venezuela and see which gets the blame more often. Whichever it is, the sabotage team or policy team takes a drink.

          Come to think of it, has anyone ever counted the claims of both when something goes awry? Which one is historically higher? Something like the piece with the infograph on assassination attempts?

          I’d do it, but my flight to New Zealand leaves in two hours and only has a 1 hour layover in LAX.

  5. Just in terms of being precise and fair, Corpoelec did not have a maintenance culture to write home about. Edelca did, so did Electricidad de Caracas, Electricidad de Puerto Cabello and many others. Then Chavez decided to integrate it all and take over those companies that were not owned by the State and Corpoelec forced its culture onto the others.

  6. FT,

    I read the article again, after reading your criticism. You are being too picky. Any American will get it, without having it spelled out. In a way, if he had added a bunch of evidence about mismanagement, it would have been too much.

    • Any American will get it, without having it spelled out.

      Perhaps so. As a US citizen who, courtesy of English language blogs on Venezuela such as CC is better informed than most of my paisans about Venezuela, I wish the article would have included the following.
      1) Mention of the maintenance record in the electricity industry- perhaps also PDVSA.
      2) Point out that the blackouts are also a consequence of Chavismo not increasing electrical generating capacity as had been preciously recommended .[See blog discussions ~2010 on Guri.]
      3) When the citizen is quoted as saying that sabotage sounds plausible that mention should have been made about the extinguishing of opposition media in Venezuela.

      The photo of electrical line spaghetti was a good idea.

  7. Re photo: The late afternoon take with darkness encroaching on the wires, is just perfect.

    Re article: In my experience, NYT political journos appear to play high-wire circus acts in leotards and velvet gloves, as they tip over one side of the political spectrum, before balancing briefly, only to tip over to the other side. It’s a juggling act designed to appease customers holding two sides of a political conviction.

    So don’t expect clear-cut windows into the issue from the NYT. Also, don’t expect to read more than one live quote per political side.

    The writing language may mock the government’s attempts to blame all mismanagement on sabotage, but there are sufficient secondary-sourced quotes from Maduro, to make it hard to figure out where NYT sympathies lie.

    Examples of one side:
    Accusing unseen conspirators of subjecting the nation to a variety of ills is an art form in Venezuela, honed during the 14-year presidency of Hugo Chávez, who died in March.

    But ever since Mr. Maduro was elected by a narrow margin in April to replace Mr. Chávez, his mentor, he has cranked the discourse of conspiracy to an ever higher pitch, darkly warning of plots that seem to lurk around nearly every corner, aimed at killing him, destroying the economy or wrecking Mr. Chávez’s socialist-inspired revolution.

    Few people are ever arrested and none have been convicted of any of the schemes Mr. Maduro has warned of in recent months.

  8. But if you don’t put that argument to readers, what are they supposed to just guess?

    By the standards of American journalism, a correspondent is not usually supposed to “put arguments” to readers. Correspondents certainly share the perspectives of others and report facts that can be readily established, but the notion that Neuman is supposed present his own conjecture in his reporting is contrary to the norms of American journalism.

    • A huge amount of what journalists do in the real world is make judgment calls about what information is important to help readers understand a story, then seek out sources who will put that information on the record for them. The fact that PDVSA’s industrial safety record is way, way worse than Ecopetrol’s and PEMEX’s – and even than CITGO’s – is clearly germain to the story. It only takes a couple of phone calls to get somebody to say that to you on the record and TA-DAAA, you have your quote.

      File this one under how-the-sausage-is-made…

    • Justin,
      I think you are mixing it up with Soviet Pravda journalism. A more or less decent journalist must find out alternative opinions about such a delicate issue, specially as it involved the death of at least 48 persons. If the journalist is not a monolingual English/Chinese/German/Somali cheerleader, he/she should report about what experts not working for the government say about this. Otherwise, said “journalist” should just work as spokesperson for the Venezuelan government (or any other government that wants to pay him or her.

      • Yes Kepler – let’s add up the number of deaths caused by the opposition for political reasons:

        April 202 coup – 19 dead
        Plaza Altamira – 3 dead executed near Parque Keisa on orders of General Gonzalez
        Oil industry sabotaje – at least 10 dead as they could not get to hospital for lack of gasolina
        Amuay 48 dead due to probable saboaje
        April 2013 – 11 dead killed after Capriles told peoploe to go out in the streets and cause violence and destruction

        So here we have 91 deaths caused by the opposition in its salivating for power and also on behalf of their US masters.

        It must make you feell very proud!

      • “A more or less decent journalist must find out alternative opinions about such a delicate issue”

        As the journalist obviously did. That journalists seek out alternative opinions should be obvious. What is not the norm in American journalism, however, is that the correspondent offer conjecture in his or her own voice. Quico’s original post was not very clear on this point, but his follow-up point was an essentially accurate account of how American journalists operate.

  9. The report simply rubber stamps the conclusion the gov’t arrived at on day one after the tragedy. Seriously, how do people not just laugh these clowns out of the country? The idea that there’s a well-trained army of saboteurs running around the country that no one ever sees and behaves in a gremlin-like fashion is ridiculous. These guys are as delusional as all get out.

    • Oiga jefe….don’t you read anything? There are 120 people waiting trial for sabotaje of the electrical industry. But I suppose that they are all patsys for government incompetence.

      Look – anyone who says that there is no sabotaje in Venezuela is also delusional. There is good evidence that Amuay was provoked. Paramilitaries have been arrested in Portuguesa and Miranda. Almost 100,000 tons of food has been liberated from hoarders since January. And there is no sabotaje?

      And – and I know that this makes you sad – the government will not be laughed out of the country or even voted out for the time being as it has a constitutional majority in the states, alcaldías, AN and runs the Executive and controls the military.

      Don’t forget that you prefer to continue on the destablization bandwagon which fucks up people who are like minded to yourself and the bloggers on the site – that is, the small minority who actually libe here.

      • Arturo, where are the findings of the occupational health and safety tribunal on Amuay? Where was the process and hearing on that? Who gave evidence?

        • He’s not going to answer so don’t waste lines on him. All he’ll do is quote whatever gov’t line venezuelanalysis is running that day. What I want to know is why his ortografia fluctuates so badly. Some days he’s almost fluent, other days he writes like a third-grade dropout.

      • So delusional… An electric failure of a random tower (that was easy to fix too) was sabotage.

        A leaky pump, due to loose fasteners (that according to the minister are not part of the regular maintenance) in a corrosive environment. His reason to probable cause of sabotage? “It has never failed before”. Not only that but several security cameras with the pump in sight but could not see the perpetrators.

        What will it take for you to open your eyes and see that there isn’t any conspiracy?

      • Arturo, were you born and raised in Caracas or abroad?
        I am asking that because you are so disconnected with reality.

        Sabotage means “a deliberate action to weaken another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction.”
        Let’s take hoarding. Do you think the USA or María Corina Machado (basically the USA) are directing all those people hoarding Harina Pan, chicken, rice, flour and oil? Is there any proof of that?
        No, there isn’t. If you catch 10000 people hoarding you have no proof of sabotage, you moron!
        You need to find the people directing them.
        Your reasoning capabilities are so weak you cannot see this:
        in a country with an overvalued currency, with currency controls causing bottlenecks all the time, with the honchos and military squeezing real producers, with the highest inflation in America you introduce fixed prices for certain products you will automatically get people hoarding. If you cannot understand that, you are beyond redemption.

  10. In the last few years the pilfering and stealing of parts from Pdvsa and Corpoelec installations has become endemic , specially where they are isolated , The motive is private gain not political , Dont think that counts as sabotage !! Hope that al least some of these delinquents have been caught . Understand that the cause of the oil spill poisoning the water supply of Maturin was in part attributable to the stealing of some piple line equipment by hands unknown.

    The other kind of practice which has become common is to hire people who lack any credentials or experience but who are govt loyalists and who sometimes are also not overly respectful with other peoples property. !!

    Managers in Pdvsa and also in Corpoelec are also required to attend to multiple political taks while puttting their more responsabilities on hold . The results of all of the above cant be good !!

    • Don’t forget, the Guarapiche spill happened ON FEBRUARY 4TH, with most of the site-staff in Maturin who should’ve dealt with the spill missing work BECAUSE THEY WERE ATTENDING THE DAMN CHAVISTA PARADE IN CARACAS! Staggering, huh?

  11. Arturo just swallows the government line whole, then repeats it. Evidence? The Great Fuehrer/Leader arrested somebody, and that’s enough! As an earlier Quico post pointed out, they’re following in Stalin’s well-worn tracks. Their revolution will achieve nothing, since it is based on lies.

  12. Talk about a conspiracy — Wall Street Journal publishes on same topic!


    In Venezuela, Leader Finds Conspiracies Behind Every Door
    Conspiracy Theories Have Flourished in the Months Since Nicolás Maduro Succeeded Mentor Hugo Chávez

    CARACAS, Venezuela—The government here is engaged in a battle of narratives.

    Most economists, for instance, say Venezuela is plagued by shortages of basic goods like cooking oil and toilet paper due to the leftist government’s tight currency and price controls.

    President Nicolás Maduro counters that the shortages aren’t due to the laws of economics, but rather a plot by the country’s political opposition, greedy shopkeepers and the U.S. government. In his view, Washington, together with Venezuela’s opposition, plant stories in the media about Venezuela’s shaky economy, causing panic shopping and shortages.

    “They want war and economic destabilization…the gringos, the empire,” Mr. Maduro said in a recent television appearance.

    In the months since Mr. Maduro narrowly won April elections to succeed his late predecessor and mentor Hugo Chávez, such conspiracy theories have flourished.

    The narrative of subterfuge plays well in Venezuela, experts say, because of memories of real U.S. meddling in Latin America. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the U.S. tried to undermine leftist regimes while also allying with repressive military dictatorships.

    Washington’s public comments hinting at support for Venezuela’s 2002 coup—which deposed Mr. Chávez for just 36 hours—also dealt a blow to the U.S. reputation among Chávez supporters. The Bush administration denied encouraging the attempted power grab.

    Deflecting attention from domestic woes by blaming outside forces is a well-worn tactic tread by Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro and others.

    “You see it in North Korea, you see it in Iran. In Latin America you are seeing it in countries like Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba,” said Carl Meacham, Americas Program Director for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank focused on security policy based in Washington, DC.

    Mr. Maduro and others in his government have asserted that Mr. Chávez—who died of cancer—was murdered and that forensic science would one day confirm the belief. “I have the personal certainty that Comandante Chávez was assassinated,” Rafael Ramírez, the oil and mining minister said recently.

    Mr. Maduro’s own government also has cited plots against the current president, a former bus driver, by mercenaries from Florida to El Salvador.

    In an appearance on state television on Saturday, Mr. Maduro claimed confidential knowledge of a gathering held at the White House, during which the overthrow of Venezuela was allegedly planned. The Venezuelan leader said he had the names of those who attended the meeting but didn’t release them.

    “I know the plans they made,” he said. “They made a plan called “Total Collapse.’ They think that in October, Venezuela will collapse.”

    Mr. Maduro said the conspirators planned to sabotage Venezuela’s food and electricity supply and disrupt the country’s oil industry. A phone call and email seeking comment from the U.S. embassy in Caracas weren’t returned.

    Last month, Venezuela’s interior ministry said it arrested two Colombian men who it alleged were part of a band of trained killers under the direction of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, an ideological foe.

    Authorities say the would-be assassins were nabbed near Caracas with sophisticated sniper rifles and a photo of Mr. Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, the head of the national legislature.

    Days later, Mr. Maduro said that “the plan was to eliminate me simultaneously with the attack on Syria.”

    “It’s an imperialist offensive, comrades” Mr. Maduro said during a televised address.

    Mr. Uribe dismissed the accusations as “immature.”

    Last month, officials announced they discovered the cause of last year’s explosion at Venezuela’s main oil refinery complex that killed at least 42 people: sabotage by enemies of the government. It offered no evidence to back the claim.

    Critics say the explosion was the result of the government’s poor management of the oil industry that has resulted in unsafe work conditions. Mr. Maduro blames the U.S. for many other of Venezuela’s problems, including chronic blackouts and the surge in violent crime.

    “He is sort of grasping at straws at the moment,” said Mark P. Jones, the Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies at Rice University. “The economy is in tatters, there are rampant inflation, shortages, and violent crime. Politically, he doesn’t have much else.”

    Mr. Maduro began raising the specter of foreign intervention before taking office. In March, he accused former Bush administration officials of conspiring with the Central Intelligence Agency to assassinate the opposition’s presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, in a plot to spark bloody unrest.

    One of the alleged conspirators, Roger Noriega, a well-known conservative based in Washington, denied the allegations, saying, “I think it would come as a huge surprise to the Obama administration.”

    Mr. Capriles said: “So far this year Maduro has denounced 11 conspiracies, including four attempts against his life. It looks like he wants to break the record.”

    After a few weeks in office, Mr. Maduro called President Barack Obama the “grand chief of devils” after Venezuelan authorities arrested a U.S. filmmaker working on a documentary and accused him of collaborating with “the ultraright” to stir violence. Mr. Obama called the assertion “ridiculous.” The filmmaker was eventually released and deported.

    Some of Mr. Maduro’s accusations have become the butt of jokes. After he said the opposition set fire to about a dozen state health centers, a popular Venezuelan satirical website posted pictures of the untouched centers.

    “[The opposition] not only burned, sacked, destroyed the clinics…but then cleaned up and left everything tidy, impeccable and fully equipped,” said the website, the Bipolar Capybara.

    Spain’s ABC newspaper poked fun at the president by publishing a top 10 Maduro conspiracies list.

    The conspiracies theories, however, are real to many in the pro-Chávez camp.

    “It’s proven that scientists from the U.S. implanted [Chávez] with a radioactive microchip” causing his cancer, said Johnny Bello, a lawyer from the state of Sucre, at a gathering shortly after Mr. Chávez’s death.


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