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Will the signature repair process spare Venezuela a civil war?

By Aleksander Boyd

London 26 Apr. 04 – The talk of the moment in Venezuela is the signature repair process or ‘reparos.’ Constitution, legislation and electoral norms notwithstanding the chavista majority of the National Electoral Council (CNE) was able to force victoriously this scam onto Venezuela’s electorate with the ever helping hand of the constitutional stooges of the Supreme Court. Readers might think “well that’s a bit of a harsh allegation towards the higher justices of the country,” I would say however that, in my view, any irreverent comment made in regards to the illegality of the way in which the signatures were deemed as ‘fraudulent’ by the CNE board and the subsequent leniency of the Constitutional Chamber, is an understatement.

The reasons

As previously stated provisions exist not in Venezuela’s legislation to excuse such an infringement of people’s electoral rights. None of the legal challenges, in that subject matter, that I have made to the salaried advocates of the regime have been met. The CNE decided to send to a repair process roughly 876.000 signatures owing to the similarity of the calligraphy contained in the signature forms. The question is not whether the authenticity of the signatures or fingerprints is in doubt but rather that CNE officially accredited personnel, in performance of their duties, helped the electorate with the filling of the forms. Nowhere in the CNE’s norms and regulations are there explicit prohibitions to said activity. Furthermore their stance violates all precedent and legal principles for it runs counter to the premise of good faith; it crashes the presidential decree of simplification of administrative processes; it disregards the constitution, which in the hierarchical system of laws is well above norms established by the CNE; it places the burden of the proof upon the electorate and throws into a legal limbo all public, administrative and legal processes whereby the assistance of official staff is required.

The CNE maintains that since the calligraphy contained in the forms is similar those electors who signed the (illegally) disputed forms have to come forth and ratify it. Norms created by them establish that the CNE will run a five day repair process, if needed, to verify the validity of those signatures that may be in doubt. However they have already proclaimed that the 876.000 people who need to prove, yet again, their desire to petition for a recall referendum will have three days and not five for the first and the last day will be utilised to the setting up and dismantlement of the repair centres. If this is not another manifest violation to the rules they have themselves written I do not know what is.

The CNE has yet to produce and publish the data with respect to those who need to ratify their signatures. Ergo a third of those who signed in November have to sign again (or 876.000 out of 3.4 million signatures that were handed in). The problem is that up until now nobody knows who needs to confirm its signature.

Then we have the so called conflict of interests between the chambers of the Supreme Court. As I have said the Constitutional chamber, having equal hierarchy in Venezuela’s legal building, has no business or power to annul rulings of another chamber, period.

The electorate

The electorate does not know what to do any more. They feel they have been robbed off their rights by the government and the opposition negotiators alike. Most held the conviction that since the Electoral chamber ordered the CNE to add those 876.000 signatures to the 1.9 million already verified and valid they do not have to ratify anything. Opposition negotiators are perceived as traitors for, in the electorate's eyes, constitutional rights are not negotiable. Others opine than in a democracy a ruling of the highest court of the land suffices to settle any issues that may arise. Concessions made by the opposition, such as the acceptance of the repair process in light of the decision of the Electoral chamber or the ceding to the CNE of two days for ‘set up & dismantle’ further impedes the possibilities of successfully ratifying the signatures needed to trigger the recall.

My view from 8.000 miles in the distance

I tend to see things from a pragmatic viewpoint. Truth is Venezuela is not a democracy but a clear example of a power-hoarding official apparatus controlling as it pleases all branches of power. Thus expecting a favourable decision of the plenary of the Supreme Court (regarding the celebration of the recall referendum) in the highly unlikely event that all 20 justices agree to the séance, constitutes mere wishful thinking. What are the exits to this deadlock scenario? For starters the opposition is far ahead from the regime in terms of positive international appreciation for the first time since the crisis started; not because they have implemented a shrewd communicational and PR strategy geared at the outside world but rather due to the characteristic clumsiness and evident brutal antics of Hugo Chavez’ regime. Secondly they have screamed at the four corners of the world that what they truly want is a peaceful, democratic and constitutional resolution. In light of the aforementioned the electorate has no other recourse than to go to the repair process for one simple reason; failing to do so would strengthen and evidence the official claims of fascism, coup-mongering and other anti-democratic niceties attributed to the opposition. As of today’s count, the only fascist, coup-plotter (and coupster) and anti-democratic character in the Venezuelan scene is Hugo Chavez. There is ample evidence and victims to prove the point.

Going to the repair will cause for the situation to define; either Hugo Chavez’ democratic mask fells completely and he officially declares that there will be no referendum –as he has already said off the international record- prompting the OAS to apply the Inter American Chart a la Peru. That fact in itself will not change the internal dynamics of the conflict. The chance of Hugo Chavez losing it is ever present, moreover should he decide to take the troops out to repress the civil up rise that will ensue –as he did in April 2002 and February 2004- may indeed be the detonator within the army ranks of another 72 hour disaster. It remains to be seen how the new military appointee will behave, if such were to be the case. Hopefully constitution-abiding army men will not make the same mistake twice (remember “Peter the Brief”). The possibility of a civil war is also a factor to take into account, although I do not consider that that will happen. Guerrilla warfare is more likely than open confrontation given the very nature of the Venezuelan people. International or US military intervention? I had say bollocks to that, as long as Venezuelan oil keeps flowing north none of that will ever occur.

The issue remains. The democratic ethics and values of Venezuelans will define the situation. However, as in football, for sudden death to arrive the game has to have ended and the repair process is the complimentary time.



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