[News] Venezuela: Final Report on the August 15 recall

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Wed Oct 13 15:03:31 EDT 2004


Gaviria's Final Report on the August 15 recall referendum; an opposition coup?

<http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=23112>http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=23112

VHeadline.com guest commentarist Glen Forbes writes: The Venezuelan 
opposition has good reason to be pleased with Gaviria's Final Report.

It manages in a 47-page narration of the events leading up to, during and 
after the Organization of American States (OAS) involvement in Venezuela to 
portray them in ... to those who have been following events in Venezuela 
and those of us who have lived and are still living through it ... an 
overly generous light.

Part I -- Antecedents:

His best service, in this regard, is perhaps at the start of his report, 
where the short-lived coup d'etat is blamed entirely on a group of military 
officers. There is no mention of civilian participation ... not in the 
planning and execution, nor in the swearing-in of Carmona.

Gaviria also, naturally, fails to mention the infighting that went on as 
the political parties and sundry personalities jockeyed for positions of 
power in the new administration, with the losers backing out of the process 
altogether when they realized that they would be worse off than they were.

No mention of the media boasting of their contribution to the coup, nor of 
the amount of champagne and whisky that flowed in certain sections of 
Caracas on news of the fait accompli ... however hasty this celebration 
subsequently turned out to be.

Not content with this outrageous whitewashing of their involvement, he then 
credits the opposition with contributing to the overthrow of Carmona ... 
giving them equal weight with the numerous supporters of President Chavez 
who came out on to the streets and the cadre of constitutional military 
officers who were instrumental in thwarting the coup.

He then goes on to give the opposition and the government equal political 
weight, despite the government's clear electoral majority in the elections 
in the year 2000, and the opposition's charges more weight still.

The President is then described as contrite and willing to reach out, and 
therefore to blame for what Gaviria likes to call a constitutional lapse, 
while the Opposition is said to be likewise disposed, though by implication 
clearly provoked.<http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=23112#[1]> [1]

Gaviria then goes on to state that he is worried by the fact that certain 
sectors (unnamed) are distancing themselves from the constitutional path, 
while in the very next sentence justifying their actions by repeating their 
claims that there is a clear lack of independence between the organs of the 
state and an inadequate balance of power. 
<http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=23112#[2]>[2]

He then goes on to list the opposition's grievances, starting with their 
claims of Human Rights violations (no details), the Bolivarian Circles 
(grass-root organizational groups based mainly in the shantytowns) which 
are ... on the opposition's say so ... Circles of Terror.

The opposition has documented evidence of these groups congregating in 
front of their TV stations and confronting reporters with what they claim 
is overt intimidation. The demonstrators cry: "Digan La Verdad" (Tell the 
truth) is portrayed as a threat to their freedom of expression.

Additionally the President's frequent nationally televised transmitions are 
deemed excessive. And as if this were not enough, he then mentions the 
opposition's outrage in that they are not able to dominate the National 
Assembly (AN) despite their minority of seats.

Hardly enough to justify a coup one might think. 
<http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=23112#[3]>[3]

Gaviria then mentions that he fears a second coup ... something that thanks 
to the Democratic Charter can no longer be accepted nor ignored by the OAS. 
This would seem to contradict the report's claim that the opposition is 
strictly democratic in nature, since what is at risk is the constitutional 
continuity of the country due to their intransigence.

Part II -- The Negotiation Table:

The Report then goes on to outline the setting-up and the agreements 
reached at the Negotiation Table. 
<http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=23112#[4]>[4]

It starts with the signing of the Declaration for Peace and Democracy, in 
which the parties agreed to hold talks, renounce violence, respect the 
Constitution and ask the OAS the Carter Center and the United Nations 
Development Program (UNDP) to facilitate the talks.

The talks got underway on November 8, 2002, and were finalized 6 months 
later on May 29,  2003, with an agreement to hold a referendum as provided 
for in the Constitution.

During this period the opposition 
<http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=23112#[5]>[5] pulled out all the 
stops in an attempt to steamroll the government into either stepping down 
or accepting early elections. Among them are the collection of signatures 
calling for a referendum before the date established in the Constitution, 
the call by military officers to depose the President, the concocted oil 
strike (managers only) and a hair-raising media propaganda campaign.

It was only the failure of these attempts that finally forced them to sign 
the agreement. Of all these events Gaviria only expresses concern over the 
actions of the military.

Part III -- The signature collection process:

The collection of the signatures to activate the recall referendum turned 
out to be perhaps the part of the process most fraught with controversy.

The designation of the directors of the National Elections Council (CNE) by 
the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) ... given the inability of the 
National Assembly to reach a consensus on the 5th member is accurate ... 
and the opposition's initial approval (it was not to last very long) of the 
TSJ's choice is mentioned.

The report starts with an appreciation of the signature collection process 
(4 days long), which it qualifies as calm, ordered and transparent. It then 
signals the disturbance caused by President Chavez on the last day of the 
signature collection process in which he claimed that there had been a 
Mega-fraud.

It may be helpful at this stage to backtrack a bit and take a wider view of 
the signature collection process as a whole.

It should be remembered that referendums, particularly for elected 
officials, let alone the President is something new and therefore untried. 
The Constitution is almost too brief on the subject, it merely mentions in 
Article 72 that all elected officials are subject to a recall referendum 
once they have reached the halfway point of their mandate if 20% of the 
electorate solicit it. How this is to come about, and who will organize, 
supervise and validate the process is unclear. In the event the opposition 
took it upon themselves to decide just how the Constitution should be 
interpreted and applied, to the extent of conducting two self-initiated 
signature collection processes of dubious validity which were subsequently 
ruled invalid.

With the designation of the new CNE, norms governing the referendum were 
established which allowed the process to proceed.  The norms gave the CNE a 
supervisory role in the collection facet of the process, a decisive role in 
the verification facet yet left the collection and handing in of the 
signatures to the petitioners.

The norms also allowed 12.5% of the collection forms to circulate ... that 
is, to leave the collection tables in order to cater to the bedridden. They 
also established that the verification stage was to be no longer than 30 days.

The number of forms (each had space for 10 signatures) at each collection 
table was decided on by the petitioners. The instructions handed out to the 
signature collectors stated that each person had to fill-out in their own 
hand their Identity Number, Name, Signature and add their thumbprint and a 
note was to accompany each form in which assistance was given, stating the 
reason.

The problems started early, with the private media solidly in the 
opposition's corner giving massive coverage to collection tables in known 
opposition strongholds, regular reports of signature forms running out, all 
the circulating forms returning filled in and an estimated similar number 
of non-circulating forms were also circulating and being filled in. 
Additionally ineligible voters such as foreigners and the under aged were 
also signing, as were the dead.

The collection forms were then, at the end of the four-day collection 
period, removed by the opposition to their verification center where they 
were (according to them) copied and checked, after which they were then 
handed in -- 19 days later, a few days before the stipulated 30-day 
validation process which was to be conducted by the CNE was up.

Claims of fraud by the government and of delays by the opposition were a 
daily occurrence during this period.

When the CNE was finally able to start the verification process it came 
upon a series of what they considered irregularities that had not been 
foreseen or clearly specified in the norms covering the referendum.

One of the most controversial was that of the forms filled in by what 
appeared to be the same hand without an accompanying note stating the 
reason. There were thousands of these forms in which all ten lines had been 
filled-in this fashion, with a substantial number of them with likewise 
similar signatures. Though the instructions to the signature collectors had 
been very clear on this point, the norms covering the referendum did not 
specify this as a reason to invalidate the form.

It is pertinent at this point to indicate that due to longstanding problems 
at the Direccion Nacional de Identificacion (DIEX) ... the department 
responsible for issuing Identification Documents & Passports ... that a 
check on the correspondence of ID numbers and signatures was almost 
impossible.

The report goes on to state that the OAS estimated that some 3,127,596 
signatures had been collected ... without taking into account the 
circulating signature forms, though these signatures had as yet, the OAS 
admits, to be validated.  He then states that there were difficulties 
(though overcome) at first, in obtaining the total access that they deemed 
necessary to a proper observation.

As the number of irregularities observed in many forms increased, and the 
CNE struggled to deal with them, both the Carter Center and the OAS 
publicly stated that in their opinion the will of the signers/citizens 
should be given preference over what they called excessive technicalities.

The CNE in an attempt to limit potential fraud, decided to send not just 
the forms in which similar signatures were apparent, but also those with 
similar handwriting (names, numbers) and those where the handwriting of the 
witnesses also appeared to be similar, to the repair process.  The repair 
process was originally conceived to allow those who had not signed to 
withdraw their signatures, since the only verification that the CNE was 
able to apply was to check that the signers appeared in the electoral 
register.

At this stage the OAS and the Carter Center proposed a statistical solution 
to the problem of the numerous similar forms. It consisted in choosing a 
representative sample of signers, locating them, obtaining a sample of 
their thumbprint and signature and comparing this with those on the 
questioned forms. The CNE rejected this solution alleging that the margin 
of error was too large in what looked to be a close referendum, and as such 
would only intensify the controversy.

Despite the CNE's rejection of this proposal the OAS and the Carter Center 
decided to make a public statement in which they insisted on the advantages 
of their proposal, regretted that the CNE had rejected it and then, 
unbelievably, reminded the population of their right to protest in a 
democracy, in what has remained to this day a very controversial decision.

There is no doubt in my mind that the opposition's strategy consisted in 
trying to overwhelm the CNE and have them, under pressure of the Carter 
Center and the OAS acknowledge far more signatures than the opposition had, 
putting them in the driver's seat come the referendum. Violence again 
breaks out on a very localized scale, though not for want of 
trying.  Gaviria again expresses concern in his report, while attributing 
it to the intransigence of the CNE.

There is no mention of the fact that there were many among the opposition 
that felt that they would not be able to revalidate the necessary 
signatures and were therefore looking for a shortcut. Talks among both 
parties were again necessary in order to allow the process to reach the 
repair stage. Gaviria qualifies the repair process as calm and ordered.

The final results of the verification process were as follows:
Valid 1,910,965
Invalid 375,241
Subject to repair 1,192,914
Total needed to activate the referendum:
20% of registered voters 2,436,083
Repaired signatures:  614,968
Final valid signatures after repair: 2,451,821

Part IV The Referendum

Gaviria begins his report of the referendum stage with the invitation that 
the CNE extended to them as observers. He mentions that Valter Pecly 
Moreira is to be in charge of the mission, a decision made in consultation 
with the CNE and which he says is due to the interest Brazil has shown in 
helping out.

He fails to mention that Fernando Jaramillo, the previous mission head was 
no longer acceptable to the CNE due to what they considered definite bias 
on his part.

He mentions that the CNE had serious reservations about extending an 
invitation to the Carter Center and the OAS and that he had had to assure 
the CNE of their impartiality. He also mentions some of the restrictions 
that the CNE were considering in order to maintain the appropriate distance 
between the roles of the CNE and the observers.

There was however more at stake than their impartiality. The Carter Center 
and the OAS were in danger of assuming the functions of the CNE 
<http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=23112#[6]>[6], at least in the 
eyes of many in the opposition who had waged a campaign to discredit the 
CNE and place their own electoral arbiter, or failing that the OAS. and the 
Carter Center in its place. I am referring of course to Sumate (an NGO 
founded by the opposition which was created to promote the referendum).

Gaviria then mentions the steps taken by the CNE to prepare for the 
referendum, the norms which he qualifies as very detailed, that were 
brought into force to regulate the process, the formulation of the 
referendum question, which he quotes and the procedures that were to be 
followed at the voting tables.

He then mentions that the decision to purchase the electronic voting 
machines from the consortium SBC (which consists of the companies 
Smartmatic, Bizta and CANTV) was very strongly criticized by the opposition 
due to the lack of transparency in the process. This claim of a lack of 
transparency is due to the fact that the CNE chose what they considered to 
be the best bid as opposed to the cheapest, as they had full authority to do.

He further mentions that the government had a 30% share stake, which he 
says had not been made public .. clearly branding the purchase as 
controversial.

He does not mention if this stake is in the consortium or if it is in one 
of the companies that are part of it. In the event it turned out that it 
was in Bizta. The Ministry of Science & Technology had a 28% stake as part 
of an incentive program for small technological companies. The transaction 
of US$200,000 was in the form of loan-for-shares guarantee project. Bizta 
paid back the loan and that was that.

He goes on to mention the number of members of the OAS observation team and 
the countries they were from ... 55 observers from the Americas, plus 
observers from Spain, Norway and Japan.  The core of the team consisted of 
12 experts in what he terms "areas of particular importance" in the 
observation of the referendum. 17 sub-observation centers were established 
around the country which liaised with the main center in Caracas.

Gaviria identifies the electronic voting component of the referendum as a 
key area due to the proportion of votes that were to be cast in this way. 
Not all voting was to be via electronic voting machines ... sparsely 
populated areas of the country, and those lacking or with poor 
communications voted manually.

He mentions their interaction with both the CNE and the service providers 
in their evaluation of the methodology, software and hardware to be used in 
the referendum as well as their presence during the live testing of the 
equipment and software that took place.

Not mentioned, though present at these tests, were the Carter Center and 
witnesses for the opposition and those for the government.

Gaviria pronounces himself satisfied with the results of these tests, 
qualifying them as accurate and secure.

On the day of the referendum the OAS observers were in place in 20 of the 
22 states. He mentions that due to logistical problems and the low 
population in the States of Delta Amacuro and Amazonas they were left out.

Observation started at 5.30 a.m., all observers were provided with the 
means of communicating individually or en masse with all the other 
observers. He notes that the voting proceeded normally, freely and without 
obstacles though the lines were extremely long. By 9.30 a.m., 95% of all 
voting tables were operating normally. Initial delay in some of the tables 
was due to the absence of many of the operators of the fingerprint machines.

He attributes the delay to the massive turn out, which overwhelmed the 
capacity of the voting centers coupled with the inevitable confusion caused 
by the implementation of a new system.

The delays in voting, the extension of the voting centers closing time, and 
the problems with the fingerprint machines produced he says a climate of 
distrust that was not alleviated by the quick results.

What he does not say is that the climate of distrust was solely among those 
of the opposition, fuelled by a steady diet of fear mongering by the 
private media in which the problems with the fingerprint machines, the 
delays and even the extension of the voting centers closing time were 
construed as some sort of nebulous plot to alter the results.
    * Gaviria then reports that, in several cases, people did not appear in 
the voting lists despite bearing documentation that they should have.

He does not mention numbers. He mentions that the military, in charge of 
the security at voting centers were on occasion overzealous in their 
identity checks of those requiring or requesting access (the State of 
Zulia) and that in some instances they were forced to take over certain 
functions (e.g. briefing voters) due to missing voting center personnel.

Voting closing time was extended to 8:00 p.m. and finally until 12:00 a.m.

Voting closing procedures were followed as per instructions.

He dedicates a whole subsection to the voting in Miami (USA) having been 
asked by the CNE to include observers in what is almost a second home for 
many Venezuelans. The voting there proceeded normally, with witnesses from 
both sides on hand as were the International and Venezuelan Press. He 
mentions the peaceful demonstration at the voting center of one of the 
tendencies (no prizes for guessing which) and the complaint by the 
opposition that the rules precluded those without legal status in the USA 
from voting.

He goes on to talk about the transmission and totalizing stages, in which 
he says that it proceeded normally, that it was adequately audited and as 
such preserved the confidentiality and integrity of each vote. Totals at 
manual centers were scanned and then transmitted to the CNE. The OAS used 
the quick count at voting centers and its participation in the audit to be 
able to confirm this.

He then deals with the tools used to evaluate the transparency of the 
electoral process. He mentions their quick count which they conducted on a 
primary and secondary sample and the 3 audits conducted by the CNE in which 
they participated in the first and third.

The first audit to be conducted on behalf of the CNE by Interideas was 
originally envisaged to evaluate 1% of the electronic voting machines in a 
random sample. The international observers and those of the opposition and 
the government were invited at 4.30 p.m. on the day of the election to 
witness the drawing of the random sample. Late closing caused some problems 
and in the end 194 machines were audited. The OAS, due to their focus on 
the quick count, were unable to be present at all of them. The results 
however confirmed both the CNE numbers and those of the quick count.

The second audit was conducted between August 18 and 22.  Proposed by the 
Carter Center and the OAS in an attempt to allay the fears of the 
opposition (who despite the urging of the international observers refused 
to accept the results) this audit was accepted by the CNE and organized in 
the following manner.

- A sample of 150 voting centers would be chosen at random, to be witnessed 
by the Carter Center, the OAS. and opposition and government observers.

- The signed voting totals (at the CNE) would be, under the eyes of the 
same witnesses, removed from their envelopes and kept in custody by the 
witnesses at the CNE.

- The totals printed out by each electronic voting machine chosen and the 
paper receipts of each which were at 24 military centers (one for each 
state) would be brought to Caracas under custody of the Witnesses.

The first step was to send the witnesses to each of the 24 military 
centers, where they waited for the results of the random sample of voting 
centers to be chosen. The boxes were then identified and sent to Caracas in 
the custody of the witnesses.

The signed voting totals, printed totals and the paper receipts were then 
compared.

The outcome confirmed the CNE results, as such both the Carter Center and 
the OAS again urged the opposition to accept them. 
<http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=23112#[7]>[7]

In order to recall President Chavez the opposition had not only to get more 
votes against his mandate than were cast in his favor but also exceed the 
number of votes that he had in the year 2000 Presidential Elections. In the 
event the government received 5,800,629 votes (59%) and the opposition 
3,989,008 (41%).  Apart from a partial list of the Opposition's claims for 
fraud and a series of recommendations for future referendums the report 
effectively ends here.

The list of fraud allegations is as Gaviria hints weak, the full list 
without any substantiation consists of over a thousand grievances ranging 
from the long voting lines to (curiously enough) the extension of voting times.

One can't but help feel that the opposition .. now in total disarray ... is 
not only anxious to deflect criticism but to lay the basis of some future 
action based on an alleged fraud.

Glen Forbes
<mailto:glenforbes at cantv.net>glenforbes at cantv.net

[1]  This professed willingness on their part lasted only as long as it 
took the Supreme Court to rule that there had not been a coup, lifting the 
specter of judicial proceedings.

[2]  As in so many of the claims of the opposition, Venezuela, its 
institutions and its functionaries are portrayed as models of democratic 
ideals and pulchritude, that is, before Chavez.

[3]  Not perhaps in other latitudes, but more than enough when long 
established privileges are at stake.

[4]  It is interesting to note just how much at odds were the goals of the 
government and the opposition. The opposition were initially hoping that 
the OAS would declare the government in breach of the Democratic Charter 
and either force them to leave office or at the very least push them to 
hold anticipated elections. The government were hoping that the presence of 
the OAS would avoid another coup and force the opposition to follow the 
Constitution.

[5]  The composition of the opposition and the relationship between them is 
subject of much debate. The Coordinadora Democratica: the most visible of 
the opposition groups and the one that signed the agreement, is composed of 
the main political parties and politicized civil organizations opposed to 
the government, The Bloque Democratico: a much more radical grouping who 
split from the Coordinadora Democratica who they consider spineless, and 
powerful local interests (exemplified by the Media), then we have a cadre 
of coup-mongering military officers, the Miami contingent who are known to 
have close links to exiled Cuban anti-Castro groups and the inevitable 
international meddlers of always, all tend to liaise on different levels 
while quick to deny links, knowledge or even in some cases the existence of 
many of these organizations.

[6]  In the event the opposition publicly claimed that they would refuse to 
acknowledge results that were not vouched for by the OAS and the Carter 
Center. (Adverse results I imagine).

[7]  Despite their previous claim that they would only accept the results 
if vouched for by the OAS and the Carter Center the opposition refused, and 
still refuses, to accept the results. They withdrew from the third audit 
claiming it was not broad enough. (I think it was to avoid having to accept 
the results, which in private, though not in public, they admitted would 
not be in their favor).


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