Second Look: What if they threw a Toque de Diana and nobody came?

Stealing an election in Venezuela requires hard work starting at the butt-crack of dawn. This time around, Chavistas might not want to put in the hours.

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Originally published on November 17, 2015.

The Toque de Diana is an institution as obnoxious as the political movement it has helped sustain in power for 16 years. On election day, at some ungodly, pre-dawn hour, a small army of chavista assholes decides to wake up the whole country. Fireworks light up the sky as a bunch of pricks working out some adolescent Hollywood action film fantasy blow into bugles to make sure everybody is up…hours before there’s any reason for anybody – let alone for everybody – to be up. Elections workers, witnesses and volunteers – who have an 18-hour work day to look forward to, lose another hour of sleep to this nonsense. It’s insane and infuriating…the perfect chavista tradition!

Why do they do it? Because the Toque de Diana is a powerful symbol of the government’s absolutely brazen determination to do whatever needs doing to mobilize its people to the polls on election day.

But what if they threw a Toque de Diana and nobody came? What if people heard the bugle, rolled over, put their pillow over their heads and went on sleeping? Worse, what if Miraflores ordered a Toque de Diana and the people charged with blowing the horns themselves didn’t get out of bed?

This, I think, is the key to understanding what’s coming down the pipe at us on December 6th.

Of course, the regime will try to use the tried-and-true mobilization tactics it has been relying on for a decade and a half. But has the leadership quite internalized what it means to try to mobilize people in a public opinion climate like the one it faces today?

It’s not like the government is planning to call in extra-terrestrials to play their “dianas”. The people called on to blow on the damn horns have to stand in line for hours and hours to buy the basics, too. Big chunks of the PSUV machinery are sick and tired of the same stuff everyone else in the country is sick and tired of: a catastrophically mismanaged economy that’s destroyed people’s life plans, a crime wave that never seems to wane, a government that seems catatonically unable to come to grips with the country’s problems.

What’s new about 6D, what’s never happened before, is that we’re going into an election with a proper national consensus that the wheels have come off the revolution. When nine out of ten people think the country’s situation is negative, you’re no longer dealing with the kind of opinion climate where mobilization techniques that could work in other types of opinion climates can work.

Lots of people in the opposition can’t seem to bring themselves to believe they’re about to win 100 seats plus in the National Assembly. Learned helplessness runs deep: there’s a deep intuition now that somehow, somewhere chavismo is bound to get away with it again. They always do.

But while I’m absolutely sure that the upper echelons of the governing elite would like nothing better than to steal the election, I don’t know that they can. Why? Because, this fact has been obscured by lots of mythologizing over the last few years, the reality is that Venezuela’s election system makes fraud extremely labour intensive. Venezuela’s voting machines amount to “the world’s most expensive pencil”: the paper trail they leave makes their results auditable, and they are indeed audited. Lo and behold, the paper trail basically always matches the machine counted “chorizos”.  

This means that, in effect, if you want to cheat, you have to sweat for it. You have to actually mobilize real warm bodies from voting center to voting center and actually intimidate witnesses into letting you stuff the ballot boxes. It’s a cumbersome, labour intensive process, a process that you can just about pull off if you have a mobilized, motivated, pumped-up activist base of true believers ready to go out there and do the work.

But guess what, they don’t have that activist base. Not this time. The activist base is livid at the fucking leadership. They hate the leadership’s guts. Almost as much as you. More than you, in some cases: you have to factor in the rage of feeling betrayed layered on top of the stew of dashed expectations on the chavista side.

For the government, trying to do anything in the current public opinion climate is like trying to swim through molasses. Everything is just 20 times harder. It’s slow, slow going: things that were easy when half the country was enthusiastic about helping you become excruciating when you face a national consensus that you suck.

It’s that consensus that makes 6D so different, and so volatile. Maduro may want to cheat. That’s a very far cry from being able to cheat.

The drama for the government is that there ain’t nobody left willing to get up at 4:30 in the morning to blow into a damn Diana. The people who’d have to hustle to make any mobilization or fraud plan work are going to sleep through 6D. And that…that scares the government.

45 COMMENTS

  1. I hope you are right. But, I have had my hopes dashed so many times, I am a little wary raising my hopes too much. But, what you argue does make sense.

  2. The Chavez Olivetti-Dominion little machines are much easier to manipulate and hack than any European Manual voting system. That’s we they don’t use them. Software malware will be easily infiltrated. And the “paper trail” will disappear around many corners. We don’t like Jorge Rodriguez’s Smartmatic in the USA, no one likes it in Europe either, except the dumb Estonians.

    The Source Code remains “proprietary” and secret. Ask any Princeton young student or computer specialist how easily it will be hacked. Ask Marc or any Brazilians how the data is manipulated in extra-innings after every election. Don’t be surprised after a funky 55/45% result on December 7th. Chavez’s smartmatic little machines have not been utilized yet to their full fraud potential. They will be put to use this time, more than ever. The results will be laughable. But the fraud will be measured, Cabello is a thug but not that stupid.

      • LKW is right, you guys never reversed engineered a machine and for that, shame on the opposition. Oh the machines are not a factor, we have failsafes…. Whatever, but the MUD/oppositions electoral priorities are AFU. You cannot run on a rigged system. Oh but to run is better than not to run. But then say the fucking system is rigged to the core.

    • Yes, as I said before, the specialists here couldn’t audit it, and it’s worth noting that to professionaly audit the whole of an electoral system is a little bit different than doing merely what Rodrigo did. However, I wish the people in the MUD could contact PSDB (the Brazilian opposition) and exchange some information with them about it. Together they can do more.

      Here is the auditing conducted:

      http://www.capitaldigital.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/RelatorioAuditoriaEleicao2014-PSDB.pdf

      Results are at page 205.

      Interesting fact: they tried to bring American specialists to help in the process, but the government forbid it by claiming some random “matter of national security”. But at the same time a Venezuelan company like Smartmatic can do whatever it wants here hehe. There’s no “matter of national security” among Bolivarian friends, it seems.

  3. Like The Dude from The Big Lebowski said, “this is like, your opinion, man”. I’d love for it to be true but I would need to see it for myself first. For example – can you find a former Horn Blower willing to say he won’t do it this time around? Anyone? Bueller? anyone?

    On the larger point – low motivation of the base – I totally agree with you though. And that’s what really matters I guess.

    • I agree with the statement that the chavista base isn’t fully motivated, but I don’t think that the PSUV won’t find people willing to throw a diana that morning.

      I wish eggs were still cheap like years before para lanzarle medio cartón a esos malditos.

  4. esperemos que todo esto sea cierto. Supongo que al final permitirán al menos una pequeña derrota y seguirán adelante como si nada hasta que la economía o la realidad les reviente en la cara definitivamente.

  5. OT: FT, sorry to interrupt. Wanna mention the drug bust. One of the boys has a public defendor…the regime’s worst nightmare. The lawyers will keep filing adjournments to buy time. They are looking at 25 to life. I repeat, one of the boys is flipping and will cooperate.

  6. btw, the house and $22M yacht do not belong to these two boys. Both belong to a PDVSA linked contractor. Those guys are under arrest and lawyered up in DR….they are denying links to the boys…yeah right. The Pandoras box has been opened

  7. The oppositions version of “Toque de Diana” may come from this weekends election results in Argentina. If Macri wins on Sunday, it will inspire everyone that change is possible, and is moving like a freight train down the tracks. The winds of change will be felt by all, and a new South American ‘Zeitgeist’ will sweep across the heavens.

  8. The outcome of this elections is also a test on people’s “dependencia del gobierno”. When everybody thinks the government is screwing up big time, it’s support will come from people who either feel like they depend on Maduro to survive or people who are “mobilized” on election day and who doubt the secrecy of the vote.

    I still have reasons to think the outcome of the election won’t be as disastrous for PSUV. Think of all the people who have gotten or are waiting for an apartment, or all the people who work at ministries or state-owned companies. A big chunk of the population will vote for Maduro no matter what. The issue is, how many?

  9. there’s a tight lid on the news coming from the Dominican Republic because of the political sensitivities of the case (PetroCaribe). However, some media are doing a good job:

    http://www.diariolibre.com/cronologia/ver/meta/narcotrafico

    Here’s the latest update in English from DR:

    http://www.dominicantoday.com/dr/local/2015/11/17/57214/Denials-clampdown-in-Dominican-Venezuela-drug-scandal

    In my opinion, this is HUGE. The Venezuelan regime is boxed in a corner.

    LKY: an aware fan

  10. posted some links and did not show. There’s a news clampdown from DR because of the political sensitivities of the case. PetroCaribe is important so many of the pro-government diarios are not publishing. However, DiarioLibre punto com and DominicanToday punto com have good updates.

    LKY: who else covered the song?

  11. Well, there are people that fully believe that Cilia Flores’ nephews were “kidnapped” by the US. I have no doubt that those are the kind of people who would get up at 3 am without eating anything and go all the way to Miraflores to volunteer to play the Diana.
    If not, the military douches will always do it, so long as they get their food and their Chinese cars and whatever else you can buy their dignity with these days.

  12. I wouldn’t say everyone hates the government. There are still wackos who believe in Maduro; who think everything is doing great, and when it isn’t, the blame is not Maduro’s but rather the opposition’s.

    I can only hope that you are right and we’re about to get 100+ seats in the AN.

  13. Why does Francisco sounds so…upset…in this piece? “F” bomb, a-hole, cursing. I was surprised to read that in what would otherwise have been an uplifting piece.

  14. I agree, in part.

    Bcause, you know, money, a lot of people in Venezuela have a price, and it seems to be that many of them are in the bargain bin…

  15. elpemon, That is true. But nearly everyone stands in line for food, faces crime daily, sees their income declining, sees decent health care disappearing, sees their freedoms gone, and above all sees no future for Venezuela. Those who don’t have these problems, such as the military, still have families facing the problems.

    Moreover, those waiting for an apartment have likely been on the list for years and know the probability of being gifted an apartment by the gov’t is damn close to zero.

    This time, those who work at ministries or state-owned companies know that the majority of their fellow workers disagree with the direction of the country and will vote against Chavismo. In this case, I suggest they abstain rather be black-mailed into voting against their consciences. (or just wear red to the mesa but vote opposition)

  16. I’ve seen a once-invincible political machine crumble overnight.

    It was here in Chicago, in 1979. Daley the Boss had died, and was succeeded by Bilandic, the alderman from his ward. In the next election, Bilandic was challenged by Jane Byrne, who had been head of “consumer affairs” under Daley. Byrne had no organization to speak and almost no money. Bilandic had the endorsement of the Democratic Party, thousands of patronage workers to “get the vote out”, and millions of $ from the business community, which always backed the group in power.

    But it snowed. And snowed. And snowed. And Bilandic failed miserably to get the streets cleared. By election day, many voters were seething, and a lot of the patronage workers didn’t care. Byrne won 51%-49%, and the Machine was dead.

  17. Nicolás ahora asegura que tiene “pruebas” de un plan de EE UU y la derecha para un “apagón nacional”…
    So here is how it is going to play out. There will be a Toque de Diana. A group of people will be mobilized and will be the first ones to vote. Then there will be a black out which will last a day. Nobody will be able to vote and the election is won..

    • That’s pretty much how Carlos Salinas and the PRI held on in Mexico. A “power failure” with the computer system. Maybe Maduro will update the technique and call it a cyber-attack.

  18. Too optimistic. Stealing an election is easy when you have your chosen CNE head announce the results on your TV channels and in your newspapers, with your armed forces ready to back up the ‘facts’. Or make up some cock and bull story about why the elections can’t take place.

    History proves at least one thing about dictatorships – those in charge won’t give up without one hell of a fight.

    • Well, the hardest thing they already have: the popular discontent. And Uncle Sam is watching closely, the US won’t let a civil war erupt in its backyard. If only Leopoldo Lopez were available to lead the masses and implode Chavismo…

      • “…the US won’t let a civil war erupt in its backyard.”

        I don’t agree. The only way the U.S. would intervene is if it got to the point where it was impacting its neighbors to the extent that Colombia and Brazil agree to intervene. In that case, the U.S. might agree to assist with logistics for humanitarian reasons.

        • Yeah, but probably nothing will happen…

          I think that these elections will show just a narrow difference between Chavismo and the opposition, and it will be just business as usual on the next day; after all, the people must go to the lines to find groceries, medicine, etc. No time for ‘silly’ protests. But if a miracle happens, and if the people suddenly take the streets because of an electoral fraud, or just due to plain dissatisfaction with the state of the country, and then Cabello gets violent, then anything can happen. But again, very likely nothing will happen,

          Venezuelan society seems to be extremely tired and resigned like the people in Cuba are after so many years of suffering and brain drain. In Brazil, we will get there soon too, as the makers who create all the jobs keep fleeing in droves to live in the developed world, and the unemployed takers who stay lose hope and get even more dependent on governamental freebies.

          Still, the opposition winning in Argentina will be a burst of fresh air for the whole region. We will witness that these mafia can be defeated with persistence and hard-work. Painful, but Interesting times ahead…

  19. Never underestimate the sheer fatigue and pessimism most people feel about the whole shebang. My daughter (in CCS) texted me today: “I don’t think the opposition is going to win the election. They will find a way to cheat. But whatever…” And she’s a petro-engineer right out of Central University. Hope she wrong but 16 years has exhausted people like crazy. To see and hear that hope has been that eroded, by the countries most promising young people, is the real tragedy. Restoring promise and rallying support will require a kind of resurrection. And some kind of leader.

  20. Reporting from Maracaibo: No toque de diana whatsoever! 😀 (at least where I live, which is a mix of relatively new buildings + 50+ year old barrio with lots of houses with red PSUV flags)

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