August 17, 2004

The Perfect Fraud

Or, an avalanche of whys

The last three days have been a terrible emotional rollercoaster, and the time may not be right for cool-headed analysis. One of two things happened on Sunday - either the government won massively or it cheated massively. Last night, I was almost sure the government won massively - today, I'm leaning the other way. Why?

Ever since CNE decided on the Smartmatic machines, there's been a number of troubling question hanging over the election: why, if you're paying millions of dollars for thousands of machines whose main benefit is that they produce a paper trail for each vote, did CNE refuse, from the start, to allow an auditoria-en-caliente (on the spot audit) to compare the paper votes at each of the voting centers with the actas (tallies) transmitted back to CNE headquarters? In the days after the reparos process, opposition negotiators Felipe Mujica and Alberto Quiroz Corradi pushed hard for this guarantee to be built into the process, but met a brick wall in Jorge Rodriguez. He wouldn't even agree to an auditoria en caliente of a small sample of voting centers - why?

One obvious hypothesis is that JR understood that an auditoria en caliente was the one control that would lay bare the kind of fraud they were planning - where the machines register votes that are different from those cast.

More deep dark whys: Why did CNE work so hard to limit the scope of activity of the International Observers? Why did they allow Carter and Gaviria to do a quick count of the transmitted (i.e. already tampered with) results only? Why did they insist on inviting Hebe de Bonafini and other open government supporters, but "forget" to send out invitations to the European Union mission?

Why were they so scared of exit polls?

Why did they threaten to shut down TV stations if they aired exit poll results?

Why were some Aporrea posters sure they'd lost on Sunday night? Why did Romero Anselmi go on VTV on Sunday night, looking like a funeral director, to say that, "whatever happens, the democratic game goes on" and that "it's ok, because we have a lifesaver called the Constitution, and that will go on"? Why did Comando Maisanta disappear all Sunday and turn up on TV looking dishevelled and straining to put on a smile? Why was Chavez praising JVR's loyalty on Sunday morning? Why?

Why did a half-dozen independently conducted exit polls all come up with the same results, which were a mirror image of the results eventually announced? Was this a massive opposition conspiracy? Who gave the CD leaders such stunningly effective acting lessons? Why were they so exultant all night on Sunday? If they were acting, why aren't they given an emergency Oscar?

Why was the CNE's Comite de Totalizacion (tallying committee) never assembled, as it should've been according to CNE's own regulations? Who carried out the totalizacion? Why was Ezequiel Zamora barred from the tallying room? Why were opposition witnesses barred from the tallying room?

Where are the paper votes right now? What guarantee do we have that they're not being tampered with ahead of an auditoria en frio?

There are too many loose ends here. I'm getting leaks from an OAS staffer who says he believes there was fraud, but the restrictive observation rules imposed by CNE made it impossible for the observers to detect it.

Remember, so far, not one paper ballot has been matched to a single electronic tally - CNE did not allow OAS/Carter Center to perform such checks. In the end, these idiots agreed to carry out an observation mission under rules that barred them from poking into the site of the fraud.

Extremely serious stuff. If the fraud allegations are true, Venezuela today is a dictatorship, a country run by the minority. You have to admire the gumption, the audacity of CNE's directors in pulling off a stunt of this magnitude. Worst of all, with no auditoria-en-caliente, it may well be that the paper ballot have already been disposed of or tampered with. We may never know what really happened...because, again, CNE insisted on a series of observation rules that leave room for this avalanche of whys.

Of course, this could be all wrong - perhaps there was no fraud, perhaps the Perfect Fraud came on the other side, in the form of a carefully orchestrated opposition conspiracy to cast doubt on perfectly valid results. The one instrument that could have cleared this up definitively - an auditoria en caliente directly after the close of voting performed on a random sample of voting centers - was denied categorically by CNE.