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Petition's Megafraud Uncovered in Venezuela

By Ismael Perez Vigil

Open letter to Caritas, Panama
Caracas, December 9, 2003

Messrs. CARITAS, Panama

Gentlemen:

In a Caritas, Panama bulletin, in the section on Latin America and the Caribbean, I read the “Report of the Group of International Observers” (hereinafter, the Report) regarding the recently concluded signature drive in Venezuela.

For the sake of objectivity and with all due respect for the seriousness and reputation of an organization such as Caritas I ask that you publish this letter on your Web page, a letter that analyzes and disproves certain information contained in the previously mentioned Report.

The Report was prepared or signed by “… a group of 52 intellectuals, parliamentarians, leaders of society, journalists and other individuals from 35 countries of the world.” However, none of them are identified. I propose to refute that Report and demonstrate that it lacks objectivity, is slanted and superficial, and contributes to generating increased confusions regarding the situation in Venezuela.

The signatories of the document refer to the signature drive by the Opposition that took place from 28 November to 1 December 2003 and completely overlook the one carried out by supporters of President Chavez from 21 to 24 November 2003. It should be stressed at this point that the Report dates from 30 November, which leads me to assume that it was prepared before the opposition’s process had concluded. Also, because of the wording, it would seem to be part of the Chavez Frías government campaign to set the scenario to disavow any forthcoming decision that might be unfavourable for the government.

Between 21 November and 1 December, millions of Venezuelans, both government supporters and opponents signed, some to revoke the mandates of assemblymen and others to recall the President of the Republic. Some went as observers, others as witnesses for the parties, and still others in their capacity as soldiers providing security and reporters. In other words, we the people, a cross-section of the most diverse convictions, professions and trades travelled the country from North to South and East to West and were involved in the process to different degrees.

Hence, we are surprised by the alleged “irregularities” to which the signers of the Report refer, some of which are true while others are not, and in any event, they were present in both signature drives. And as we stated earlier, many are not even irregularities but rather a trend or current of opinion that the signers are attempting to create in order to strip this process of all legitimacy, who knows why?

Let us examine the aforementioned Report [in italics], point by point:

1. At almost all the voting polls visited (1) we noted the presence of parallel documents to those established by the National Electoral Council, whose existence has not been explained by the Democratic Coordinator:

A) A card on which the voter was to identify himself or herself and then affix his/her fingerprint as an unofficial means of verifying participation in this process (Annex 1)
B) Small unofficial papers to identify (SIC) the identity of the person, the number of the table and the form number (Annex 2)


The only documents “established” by the National Electoral Council (CNE – acronym in Spanish) were the forms on which signatures were to be collected and the tabulation sheet. All others that were not prohibited were determined by the organizers of the signature drive. The card referred to in the Report is identical to the one used at all polling tables a week earlier in the government’s signature drive, a card with the words “Recall them with your signature and fingerprint.” Neither of these two cards can be classified as constituting an “irregularity,” but rather this is the manner in which both contending parties - Government and Opposition - had decided to comply with paragraph 4 of Article 23 of the Regulations drafted for the signature drives. The aforementioned paragraph clearly states it is the obligation of those collecting signatures to inform each citizen signing the form of “… the number of the form and the line on which the respective citizen’s signature and fingerprint appear, in order to guarantee the right to object.” If you wish and if necessary, I can send you a copy of this card used by the Government and Opposition.

The “small unofficial pieces of paper” (point b) contained information with data as it appeared in the electoral listing, which the organizers gave participants. Actually, furnishing this information is the obligation of the CNE, an obligation it did not fulfil, thereby obliging the organizers of both events to perform this function. I might add that other organizations and ONGs also aided in providing this information in the days prior to and during BOTH signature drives.

(Note: the original report omits point 2)

3. We observed the presence of computer systems and databases set up parallely in public or private locales near the polling tables. Those kept in private sites and could possibly have supplanted the role of the National Electoral Council.

This reference to an alleged irregularity is possibly made because the observers signing the Report were not present at the government’s signature drive which took place a week earlier. Had they been there they would have seen that the Government sector had similar equipment installed for the same purpose. There is proof in the form of photos and film clips from TV stations to prove this fact to anyone who wishes to investigate further.

More importantly, however, these “computer systems and databases” had not been banned by the CNE until Saturday, 29th November, one day after the beginning of the Opposition’s signature drive, transforming it into a biased decision of the electoral council that changed the ‘rules of the game’ in the middle of the process, to the detriment of one of the participants. Even more serious is the fact that the decision was never published in the Electoral Gazette and, therefore, the prohibition, besides being absurd, discriminatory and biased, is also illegal.

4. Despite clarity in documentation for the collection of signatures prepared by the National Electoral Council that earmarked Form A for fixed site collection (at the tables) and Form B for itinerant collection (to be used in the case of those citizens unable to travel to the polling sites), we noted that the former forms were used for the latter purpose. This could transform the home visit into a kind of mass signature collection that would not have been witnessed and observed as required.

This, indisputably an irregularity, was present in both processes; therefore, once again, to mention it in the case of one party without extending the same criticism to the other party, is nothing short of clear evidence of the bias in the “Report of the Group of International Observers,” against the Opposition and in favour of the Government.

In this regard please consult the reports of the Network of Observers that reported on both processes on a daily basis and which can be found on the organization’s Web page: (www.veedores.org). Following is a quote from the report of 22 November, the 2nd day of the first signature drive:

“Reports received regarding the collection of signatures by itinerant agents leads us to presume that many of these forms will contain signatures that cannot be validated for the following reasons:

- They exceed the number of forms assigned to itinerant collectors; many of them are taking forms corresponding to fixed centres.

- Blank forms were used without duly recording the name of the official to be recalled in the space provided for the heading.

- Itinerant collectors were not accompanied by observers or witnesses of the individual whose recall was being sought, often because they were absent and on other occasions because the collectors would not agree to be accompanied, in clear violation of the regulations established by the CNE.

- Some observers report that in certain sectors where invasion of property recently took place, signatures were collected by itinerant collectors by making use of threats or coercion …”

Nonetheless, in defence of both groups, I must stress that this problem was partially due to defective information from the regulating entity, the CNE, and an erroneous interpretation of the regulations.

First, none of the regulations establishes that the collection of signatures by itinerant agents was “in principle to be used in the case of those citizens unable to travel to the fixed polling sites,” as the Report erroneously states. The regulation states that such signature collection was to take place outside the fixed centres and was limited to a very low percentage of forms, or barely 12.5% of total forms issued.

Second, no regulation states that the task of the itinerant collectors was only to take place in the presence of witnesses or observers. What the regulation does set out is that “witnesses may be present and participate in all actions to collect signatures…” (Article 15 Resolution 031030-714 of 11/30/2003, Rules to Regulate Activities of Observers) and that the official to be revoked or the latter’s supporting organizations are entitled to accredit “one witness per each itinerant collections agent” (idem. Article 16, point d). The right to accredit and observe the process cannot undermine the right to collect signatures, nor can the collection process be hindered by the lack of a witness or the latter’s refusal to accompany the itinerant signature collector. What was illegal was denying the collector such accompaniment if a witness was present and available.

But most importantly, if forms earmarked for use at fixed centres were used by itinerant collectors, these can be easily identified and eliminated according to the rules set out by the CNE. This is a relatively simple task because both parties had witnesses at all Signature Collection Centres who were entitled to formulate any necessary observations and could request that such an irregularity be noted for the record and request the elimination of any such forms and signatures.

5. At all centres visited we received reports of persons who in different ways had been subjected to pressure or coercion to sign, as for instance: threats of dismissal from job; exclusion from receiving medical attention; pressure from employers to sign as part of their job obligation, and possibly even being taken to different places to sign more than once. If these reports are confirmed, this could seriously question the free exercise of the right to sign.

This is a very delicate issue and both parties have mutually accused each other of the same faults, without anyone furnishing incontrovertible proof of such happenings, so that if the signers of the Report can do so, this would be of great use because “If these reports are confirmed, this could seriously question the free exercise of the right to sign.”

At this time, we can point out certain facts which all national and international observers witnessed, for example:

- Declarations by the Minister of Defence and the General Commander of the Army affirming that military personnel would not be able to exercise their right to sign to activate the presidential recall because the President of the Republic is their Commander in Chief. To no avail were the declarations against this measure of the Attorney General and National Ombudsman of Venezuela.

- Despite his statement in favour of allowing the military to sign, the National Ombudsman decided not to allow his subordinates to sign in either process.

- Statements made by Assemblyman Ismael García, President of the Comando Ayacucho for the Government, to the effect that they were going to photograph and videotape everyone who signed against the President of the Republic.

- Declarations by the Vice President of the Republic that the collection of signatures must be prevented “at all costs.”

- Different statements by the President of the Republic prior to the signature drive for his recall calling those who signed against him “traitors” and threatening that their “names, signatures and fingerprints would go down in history …” as enemies of the country.

- Statements by the President of the Republic, during the process on 30th November - illegal and contravening the regulations regarding publicity and propaganda issued by the CNE- calling on his followers to defend his process “on bended knee,” in a clear and threatening allusion to violent actions to intimidate and threaten the Opposition.

- Statement by the President of the National Assembly and President of the National Tactical Command of “Movimiento Quinta República,” Francisco Ameliach, on that same Sunday, immediately after the President’s declarations, calling on the people to defend the revolutionary process “by taking up arms.”

The signers of the Report probably were unable to include these statements because the events they refer to took place on 30th November, the same date on which their Report was issued.

What surprises us is that the signers of the Report, who state that they visited quite a number of centres and that “at the centres visited we observed the peaceful atmosphere, the transparency of the materials provided (SIC) by the National Electoral Council and an appropriate level of information regarding the process, both on the part of those collecting the signatures as well as on the part of the national observers,” failed to note: the number of centres that opened 4 to 6 hours later than scheduled because of a lack of material; or the number of centres throughout the country where government sympathizers harassed the opposition signers by throwing fireworks into their midst; throwing tear gas; riding motorcycles towards the crowds and encircling them; or positioning their people on trucks near the signature collection centres to insult those waiting to sign, without being brought to order by the military personnel stationed there precisely to maintain order.

What we can say and anyone can corroborate and confirm our statement is that the week before (during the government signature drive), there were no reports of incidents of this type where government sympathizers participating in the signature drive were harassed by opposition sympathizers.

6. We observe with astonishment that sites authorized by the National Electoral Council for the installations of tables for the signature drive were moved, without first consulting the Council. This made it difficult both for us and the national observers to perform our oversight of the process and, therefore, we consider this might cast doubt on the final results.

We agree that this problem arose in both processes to the extent that during the first one, from 21 to 24 November, 2003, the Network of Observers was unable to organize its observers as customary because the CNE never published the correct information as to the location of the fixed signature collection sites. Moreover, the information that appeared on its website on the Wednesday before the Government signature drive was incorrect, since the majority of these centres had been moved because they did not satisfy the regulations issued by the CNE in this regard.

In defence of both parties we again must say that this problem was due to a failure by the regulating entity, the CNE, which after establishing the rules, presenting and accepting the fixed signature collection centres, just a few days prior to beginning the process resolved to change the rules and ban the collection of signatures at political party headquarters, public offices and private homes.

Doubtlessly this caused problems for the organizers and for the observers, as the signers of the Report state, but not so much for the national observers because the CNE didn’t accredit many of these organizations, and openly and without grounds discriminated against some of them, as for example the Network of Observers.

Lastly, the signers of the Report are entitled to voice their political leanings and I would like to think that this is because they wish to contribute to eradicating the violence threatening Venezuela. However, I don’t believe that a report such as this contributes to clarifying the situation or to bringing out the truth. What should be expected of “electoral observers” is that they at least be familiar with the process they are going to observe.

Yours faithfully,
Ismael Pérez Vigil
Member, Network of Observers



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