March 23, 2004

Contempt for evidence

Another recent notable in the contempt for evidence department is one Toni Solo writing in something called Dissident Voice. Solo's attempted debunking of Phil Gunson's piece in The Independent (March 2nd - link by subscpription only) is either funny or alarming, depending on my mood.

I realize people in the US read this stuff and believe it, and it alarms me. I have fresh reports of sightings of Chavez banners at the recent anti-war rally in New York, and I start to think, Jesus, they're taking the bait!

So, Solo's debunking job is in serious need of some public debunking of its own. I'll just post the email I sent to his letters section. Lets see if they post it (doubt it.)

From:  "Francisco Toro"
Subject: Pesky facts

Hi dissident,

Just came across your website. As a former journalist based in Caracas, I wanted to pick you up on something. You write:

"Phil Gunson whimsically attributes to himself the authority to judge the
number of signatures collected. He says nothing about the circumstances
of the recall vote – which no European country would have regarded as
acceptable. For example, voting lists were taken from the voting stations
by opposition party representatives so as to register votes by going from
house to house. The Chavez government accepted that and other abnormal
voting procedures, presumably so as to quit the opposition of any excuse
were they to lose the vote."

Vamos parte por parte...

1-The basis for the 3 million signature claim was not on the record when Phil wrote his piece, it has since been put there by the Financial Times. As you'll recall, the signature gathering process was closely observed by the OAS and the Carter Center, following an agreement signed between government, opposition, OAS and the Carter Center in May 2003. As part of its remit, the Carter Center was charged with carrying out a statistical sample of the signatures collected to check their validity according to the  criteria published before the gathering process was concluded, (not after.) The Carter Center sample revealed that 93% of the 3.2 signatures collected (discounting 200,000 dismissed for double-signing and underage signing) were valid.

That's the source of Phil's certainty on the signature tally: every diplomat in Caracas (except Sanchez Otero) stands by that number off the record. Now, maybe you think Jimmy Carter is a tool of the American imperialist machine, but I think he's an honorable man and he is certainly highly regarded by both sides in the conflict. He's 79 years old, has helped mediate over 13 conflicts, has a nobel prize, oversaw the first and only peace treaty between Arabs and Israelis in the modern era, teaches Sunday school, and is clearly not going to come and spoil it all by lending his organization's name to a sample carried out unfairly. For that reason, I take it very seriously when the Carter Center/OAS statement on the referendum says clearly that there were more than enough signatures to call a referendum, and the CNE leadership calls them "biased." The simple fact is that if the right criteria had been applied properly, the referendum date would have been set long ago.

Eventually, the exact Carter Center results were leaked. Can't be sure who leaked, but in any event the statistical results are sure to be included in the final report by the secretary general of OAS, Cesar Gaviria, who practically lived in Venezuela for months hammering out the May 2003 agreement. Its open violation is not likely to go down well.

2-You write that no European country would have regarded the signature gathering drive as acceptable? This EU presidency statement, published by the current EU president country (Ireland), explicitly backs the OAS/Carter Center conclusions that there were more than enough signatures to convoke a vote. Even the Eastern European accession countries sign - and they know a thing or two about living under authoritarianism. Europe is UNITED in believing the signature gathering process was fair.

3-As for the door-to-door canvassing being unfair - this is a joke, right? You do know that there was a pro-Chavez witness accompanying each opposition canvasser at all times? You do know that the chavista witnesses had to sign each form for the signatures to be tallied at all (otherwise, it's part of the 200,000 initially invalid ones?) You do know that the government controlled Elections Council approved the legal framework -explicitly including the canvassers- and oversaw the whole process? You do know that forms that left each signature gathering center in the morning had to be back before 6 pm that same evening with a Chavista witness signatures, otherwise they did not count, don't you? You do realize the forms were printed on special, water-marked bank security paper that cannot be photocopied, that each had an individual number and location it was assigned to, a bar code, and that signature tallies had to be produced at the end of each of the four days of signing at each of the 2700 signing centers and signed by each of the CNE representatives, the pro government and pro opposition witnesses and a number of nonpartisan civilian witnesses, don't you? You do know that this material was guarded overnight by armed troops all over the country, don't you? You do know that international observers witnessed the signature process at almost half the collection centers nation wide and that 90% called the process "good" and the other 10% called it "reasonable"? You do know these things, right?

I obviously don't have the time to pick apart the rest of your essay on this level of detail, but let me just say this: I have a feeling you didn't actually know these things. Facts are such pests. In future, please make an attempt to inform yourself more fully before spewing off on matters that are, literally, of life and death for the people involved.

And do look through my web-site now and then.



Go ahead and send Dissident Voice a letter to the editor urging them to publish this, or send them a letter of your own picking them up on any other part of their abominable pseudo-reporting.