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Venezuela's Megafraud Mechanics Explained

By Francisco Toro

I know this is old news to Venezuelan readers, but it's important to explain it again for the foreign readers now that the pro-Chavez net brigade are attempting to distort the issue. The Chavez government has insisted for months that the 3 million signatures validly collected during the referendum petition drive are the product of a megafraud. This is a lie, as everyone in the diplomatic community, the Carter Center and the serious media know. Even Juan Forero, by far the most sympathetic-to-Chavez reporter with a foreign newspaper, acknowledges this much.

What's most infuriating and most pathetic about the Chavez government's attempt to keep alive some suspicion that the signatures are fake is the lack of detail or logical coherence in the official story. The word "megafraude" has been repeated one and a million times. The mechanics of the supposed fraud have never been explained in public in any coherent way.

The reason is simple: when you think through all of the elaborate security procedures approved by the pro-Chavez National Electoral Council, you realize that mass fraud would have been impossible. Not only were the petition forms themselves minutely designed and carefully controlled throughout the process, but there were witnesses from both sides, media cameras, international observers, and neutral witnesses at every single one of the official 2700 signature gathering centers approved and run by the elections' council - CNE. Wayyyyy too many eyes for a massive fraud to just go unnoticed.

Consider this: The forms themselves were numbered, bar-coded, printed on watermarked bank security paper that cannot be photocopied. Each form was assigned to one specific signature gathering center and was only valid at that one center - forms were not allowed to be transported from low-activity areas to high-activity areas.

All of these elaborate precautions were imposed by the pro-Chavez Elections Authority - much to the anger of the opposition which had envisaged a more informal, US style canvassing drive.

Perhaps the key safety instrument CNE imposed is the acta - an official form containing signature tallies that had to be produced at the end of each of the four days of signing at each of the 2700 signature centers, and then had to be signed by all present including the chavista witnesses present. Signatures present in the forms but not accounted for in these actas are not considered valid by either side.

Also, if someone signed twice, or signed without being registered in the electoral rolls, or if their data did not match internally (i.e. wrong birthday, or something like that) those signatures were also thrown out automatically by the detabase check. Of the 3.44 million signatures originally collected, this left about 3.1-3.2 million in according to both Sumate (the opposition NGO organizing the signature drive) and the final National Electoral Council tally (although with discrepancies.)

After performing a statistical analysis of those 3.2 million signatures by picking out a random sample of over 1,000 of them and checking them according to the legal criteria, the Carter Center came to the conclusion that 93% of them were valid, with a margin of error 3%. At least 90% of the signatures, the Carter Center said, had been collected according to all the criteria published before the referendum drive and should be counted as valid. It is this study that provides the clearest evidence that the opposition really did collect enough signatures to automatically trigger a recall vote. The government refused to accept this scientific sampling method to determine its policy. Who's hiding what here?

Remember that 2.4 million signatures were needed to trigger a vote. To convince us that no vote was due, the government would need to make the case that well over half-a-million fake signatures managed to somehow evade ALL the security procedures explained above. Now, the only way the government could convince us that over 600,000 of those signatures are fake is to explain how it is that the opposition had a massive campaign to skim off over 60,000 forms over all four days from each and every one of the signature collection centers, each day, over four days, taken them to signature "labs", filled them out fraudulently, then quietly slipped them back in with the other signatures, every day, all over the country, and were not seen once doing so. The Chavista witnesses, in 90% of the cases, signed the actas and certified that as far as they were concerned, they had seen no hanky panky. The army, present at the entire process, saw nothing, nobody in fact saw any of it - a conspiracy of thousands or tens of thousands of perfectly trained Sumate cheats in every municipality in the country and every voting station cheating in perfect secrecy.

Anybody who has spent ten minutes in Venezuela knows that this is impossible: everybody knows everything about everybody else in Venezuela. That not a single one of these supposed 2700 "labs" was ever located, no one ever arrested, no detailed allegations brought against any of them merely underscores how ludicrous the idea is. An operation on that scale is just not possible in Venezuela. And indeed, no such operation was detected.

The question, then, is where how, according to the government, the megafraude is supposed to actually have worked. Note that ONLY such an unlikely operation would have worked, because ONLY such an operation could have gotten around the "acta" rules in force.

The notion that Sumate might have mass-produced hundreds of thousands of signatures after the firmazo is simply ignorant or intended to deceive: by the point Sumate got its hands on the forms, originals and copies of each of the thousands of actas had been made in cuadruplicate and circulated to every part of the process. Sumate might have doctored its own copies of the actas, but to what end? CNE, the Chavistas, and the International Observers had their own original copies. So a post-facto fraud is actually impossible given these rules.

The point is that Chavismo doesn't feel bound by the rules of common debate. They don't actually feel they need to make a coherent, intelligible case to back the assertions they make. Cries of megafraude have often, maliciously, come backed by references to people who signed twice - a malicious attempt at misinformation, since Chavez knows full well that there are procedures in place to weed out those people via a database cross-merge between signers and registered voters, such that if the coordinadora really wanted to cheat, that would be the single least effective way to do it.

It doesn't matter though: Chavez's allegations don't need to make sense. Chavez has control over the key players, they're forced to take orders from him, and for him, that is enough. As for the facts? Well, the facts can go fuck themselves. Nobody ever built a revolution on facts.

Pace Eva Gollinger, Senator Kerry seems to understand this underlying dynamic. The Senator understands that contempt for evidence and wilfully misleading statements are the bread and butter of chavista P.R. strategy. Kerry is absolutely right about Venezuela, that's what worries the chavistas.

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