August 27, 2004

Who in the opposition has the moral authority to accept a Chavez victory?

Teodoro Petkoff does.

This is the Aug. 25th editorial in TalCual

Sumate's statement, published yesterday, gives rise to an urgent reflection. In effect, if "it is not possible to speak of fraud without strong evidence," a question of utmost importance arises:

What if there was no fraud? What if the results of the referendum reflect the will of the voters? Today, CANTV reaffirms, on the basis of technical arguments, what the Coordinadora Democratica had said before the referendum about the adequacy of the automated voting system. We recommend reading CANTV's statement because it leads to another question: isn't it possible that the vote remains a trustworthy democratic instrument and that refusing to use it could leave that huge mass of at least 40% of the voters without any kind of alternative vis-a-vis those in power?

Clearing up this matter quickly is crucial for the immediate future, but also for the long term. We have to get past our shock, depression and anger to examine more clearly and lucidly what happened. Because, if Sumate is now cautiously saying that "the numerical patterns found in the actas do not constitute conclusive proof of fraud" (El Nacional, Aug. 23rd, page A3); if CANTV vouches for the total effectiveness with which it carried out its responsibilities on the referendum (which, incidentally, were not limited to data transmission but also included coordinating the work of over 11,000 voting machine operators); if the results of the manual voting tables, which constitute a gigantic sample of one million of the country's poorest voters confirms the general tendency registered in the poorest areas; if OAS and the Carter Center, whose guarantees were previously said to be sufficient to accept the results, did not "rush to judgment" but instead correctly judged reality; if the exit polls, which are now thrown around as though they were Moses's Tablets, were not trustworthy enough, as expressed by one of the main pollsters in Venezuela (whose own exit polls, incidentally, had detected the trend in favor of the No from early on); if, all things considered, it does not appear to be a coincidence that all the pre-vote polls (except UCV's) had the No ahead, isn't it about time, then, to leave behind the listlessness produced by the results and to start to admit that the evidence indicates that Chavez won the referendum, but that the referendum also showed the existence of a powerful force of opposition voters, which won in Caracas and the biggest cities in the countries, that even in the chavista strongholds of the shantytowns has between 30% and 40% of the electorate, and that it would therefore be extremely irrational and irresponsible for people to give in to hopelessness and to fail to participate in the state and local elections next month?

Refusing to capitulate goes beyond mere rhetoric.

It means giving up the consoling conspiracy theories about Bush and "that old wanker" Carter, supposedly in favor of the oil interests of the empire, with the complicity of - wait for it - the Colombian oligarchy as represented by "that fucking Colombian" Gaviria; it means discarding the "pregnant bird" stories about the "Russian superprogrammer" who supposedly tampered with the machines and other such nonsense, and recognizing rather that something must have happened in these last few years in this country to allow the victory of a rhetoric of social redemption in the mouth of a strong leader who knows how to communicate it, and who despite heading one of the worse governments in recent memory, manages to hang on to the affection and the backing of millions of our fellow citizens who do not "sell" their votes but rather identify themselves still - though less and less so - with that hawker of illusions and hopes called Hugo Chavez.

For those who refuse to capitulate, digesting all of this and metabolizing it is indispensable: we need to lick our wounds, jump back into the ring, and fight.

August 26, 2004

Turning Japanese

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

I show this sentence to Kanako, my Japanese friend. She looks at it for a second, thinks about it, and in her broken Italian says, "No, it's not right."


"Maybe it's right in Europe, but somebody Japanese would never believe it. It's a very European idea."

"How do you mean?"

"I think because Europeans are monotheist, you know, there is only one God, and therefore there is only one truth. But in Japan, we don't think this way. We have so many Gods, so many spirits. And a spirit is a source of truth. So for us, it is normal to think that there are many truths, that one spirit doesn't get to impose its truth on another. So yes, Sherlock Holmes is Europe. We, we would never accept it."

"But you see, Kanako, that won't do, because either most Venezuelans voted yes or most Venezuelans voted no. It can't be both."

"Of course," she says, "but you don't understand. Yes, there is one truth on that level. But it doesn't matter. Because the truth is something we make, collectively, by believing in it. Today, maybe so many people in Venezuela believe that Yes won, and for them, that is the truth. Others believe that No won, and for them, that is the truth. They make it the truth by believing in it."

"But a country can't work this way, with half the country sure the other country is wrong."

She smiles and shrugs, "maybe a christian country can't work that way. I don't know what to say. It's a very western idea. For me, having a lot of different truths, well, it's normal, it's the most normal thing there is."

I try to make sense of Kanako's words, and I struggle. But I see that, in some sense, she's just right. There was fraud. And there was no fraud. And half the country will never believe that there was no fraud. And half the country will never believe there was fraud. We're not Japanese. We can't think of that as normal. But maybe, who knows, maybe the Japanese are right. Maybe it is normal. Maybe it's the most normal thing in the world.

August 25, 2004

Why is this blog so quiet...

Because, to cite Sumate's Aug. 23rd statement...

Sumate has received hundreds of reports of fraud from citizens, civil associations and other organizations [...] Some of these reports have already been investigated and discarted, while others have given rise to more in-depth investigations that will allow, in due time, to demonstrate or rule out the reports of irregularities and to finally uncover the truth.

One of the reports is referred to a series of "patterns" identified in the tallying reports (actas). Sumate is consulting experts and academics in Venezuela and abroad who are carrying out a detailed and exhaustive analysis of these cases. So far, they do not constitute a convincing proof of fraud.

However, we must warn the people of Venezuela that these investigations will take some time.


A legitimate reconciliation between Venezuelans can only come once all doubts about what happened during the referendum have been cleared up.

We deserve to know the truth. If the result is that the winning option was NO, then NO voters must not feel shame to proclaim it and must not remain under the shadow of suspicion of fraud. If the winning result is the SI, it shall be necessary to proceed to the necessary correction to recognize the will of the Venezuelan people.

Deep down, I'm now 99% convinced that there was no fraud and the government won cleanly. However, I can't make a final judgement until I read and consider Sumate's final report. Until then, I'm afraid posting will be light.

August 22, 2004


From my inbox...

You know, when I first saw the CNE results, I assumed fraud. The weird hour, the huge spread, and the strange look on Carter's face when he and Gaviria came out of the CNE offices at 1 am....

But now I think I believe these results are accurate... or nearly accurate. I won't go into the debate over evidence (or lack of evidence) of fraud. But on a more general note, when you say in your "Realities" entry that the country is back to a "60-40" split, I don't know if I agree. Let's assume Chavez won, fair and square. I don't think that means 60% support him. I think it's a mis-reading of that vote. I think maybe 40 points of the 60 are loyal chavistas... but the other 20 is a bunch of people who would like to see someone else in charge, but don't see who it could be. These middle 20 (and I don't call them ni-ni, because that misses the point) simply did the math: If Chavez were kicked out, they would have to endure a month of Pres. Rangel and a big, chaotic presidential campaign, and when all was said and done, Chavez would be back in Miraflores by the end of September. I think that middle 20 percent regarded that possibility, sighed a heavy sigh, and said What the hell, let's leave bad enough alone.

When the opposition looks at the CNE results, it interprets them as 60% pro-Chavez, and, seen that way, of course the results look fraudulent. There's no way 60% of Venezuelans are chavistas. But that's not what the 60% really denotes... I think.

The Carter Center Report on the last phase of the Venezuelan Recall Referendum

The Carter Center has maintained an office and a director in Venezuela since September 2002, at the invitation of the Government of Venezuela and the opposition Coordinadora Democratica. The Center was invited by the National Electoral Council (CNE) to observe the recall referendum process beginning November 2003. The Center has organized five international observer delegations between November 2003 and August 2004, and maintained a longer-term team to observe the four month verification process from January-April 2004.

The Center has performed its role as invited international observers in a neutral, objective manner, respecting the sovereignty of the country and the authority of the CNE. Our role has been to inform the Venezuelan public and international community about the process, to provide evaluation and suggestions to the CNE, and to help ensure transparency and peacefulness of the entire process.

Throughout these eight months we have worked with the CNE to have the access we need and to increase the transparency of the process for the Venezuelan people. We have insisted throughout the process that the definition of fraud consists of an identifiable pattern of bias in favor of or against one party. Irregularities due to administrative difficulties or random statistical effects should affect both sides and should not have an impact on the outcome.

During the signature verification period, the government Comando Ayacucho raised questions about fraud and we suggested instruments to test these concerns, indicating that a significant pattern must be found before classifying irregularities as fraud. Our own evaluation concluded that sufficient signatures were gathered to trigger the recall referendum. We expressed clearly and in public our discrepancies with some of the CNE decisions, especially regarding the so called ?planillas planas? (similar handwriting) and the possibility for signers to ?repent? and remove their signatures during the repair period.

After the recall referendum, the opposition Coordinadora Democratica has raised questions about fraud and we have again suggested various instruments to test these concerns. We will describe below the tools we have used to come to our conclusion that the vote results announced by the CNE do reflect the will of the Venezuelan people.

Observation of the Recall Referendum of August 15, 2004

The referendum on August 15, 2004 rejected the petition to revoke the mandate of President Hugo Chavez. The observation of The Carter Center mission confirms the results announced by the National Election Council announced Wednesday, in which the ?No? vote to recall President Chavez received 59% and the ?Yes? vote received 41% of the votes cast.

The Carter Center, in coordination with the mission of the Organization of American States, fielded a team of international observers from 14 countries. Beginning July 1, 2004, the Center deployed in Caracas an advance team to observe preparations for the recall, monitor the media coverage and access, and observe the pre-election simulations and audits. Two days before the vote, teams of two observers were sent to the states and the capital district.

The Carter Center mission observed the qualitative aspects of the election as well as the new state-of-the-art automated voting system. Overwhelmingly Carter Center observers found a calm environment on balloting day, with thousands of voters waiting long hours for the opportunity to cast their ballot. Given the amount of time it took some voters to cast their ballot, it is clear that the voting process, including relevant polling administrative procedures, fingerprint machines, and the automated voting machines, should be reviewed and swifter voting procedures should be put into place for future elections.

Testing the Automated Voting System

Noting the questions that have been raised about the automated voting system, the Center is providing more detail about our review of that system. The assessment of the automated system consists of three components: I) Voter to the machine; II) Machine to the CNE server; III) Totalization of the votes within the CNE server.

I) Voter to the machine: does the touchscreen voting machine by Smartmatic accurately reflect the vote cast by the elector?

To assess this question, the CNE organized an audit the night of the election to count the paper receipts (comprobantes) in order to compare them with the electronic results (actas). We supported this process, but were only able to observe a small number of the audits because we were conducting our own quick count at the closing of the polls. In addition, the CNE reported that of the 192 machines chosen in a sample whose drawing we observed, only 82 were audited the night of the election due to the very late hour that many voting stations closed and due to misunderstanding of some of the auditors of the instructions. The results of that audit reported by the CNE were a discrepancy of only 0.02% between the paper receipts and the electronic results recorded in the actas.

Due to the incomplete nature of the CNE audit on August 15, our own limited ability to observe that audit, and continued opposition doubts about the machines after the vote, the OAS and The Carter Center proposed on August 17 to the National Electoral Junta (JNE) of the CNE a second audit to compare the paper receipts with the electronic results. This audit is being conducted August 19 -21. The preliminary results of this audit confirm that the machines correctly registered the voters? intent.

Chronology of the audit proposal.
· In designing the audit, we consulted Sumate, members of the Coordinadora Democratica, and with Rectors Zamora and Rodriguez.
· President Carter then described our proposal in a press conference on Tuesday, August 17.
· The morning of August 18, the OAS and Carter Center explained to the Coordinadora how our audit proposal would detect the irregular patterns in the results that they suspected. We then went to the CNE to finalize the proposal with the JNE. The Carter Center obtained a copy of the computer program that would be used to draw the sample, and was prepared to share that program with the political parties.
· The Coordinadora decided not to participate in the audit.

The audit was carried out as follows:
· A random sample of 150 voting stations (mesas) was drawn on the evening of August 18 in the presence of the OAS and Carter Center and with our prior examination of the Pascal program used to draw the sample. An observer from the OAS or Carter Center was in place in most of the military garrisons (guarniciones) around the country which guarded the voting materials, before the sample was drawn. The observers then watched the CUFAN identify most of the designated boxes, and in every case accompanied those boxes via helicopter and truck to the location of the audit in Caracas.
· On the morning of August 19, 21 teams of CNE auditors and 25 observers from the OAS and Carter Center, along with witnesses of the Comando Maisanta and other international observers, and security from the CUFAN, began to count the paper ballots and compare them with the actas and the cuadernos. The CNE auditors and the observers worked long hours in a careful and detailed way to count the paper ballots, and stopped work at any moment that an international observer had to step away from the table.
· Today, August 21st, the CNE as well as the OAS and Carter Center head of mission Mr. Cesar Gaviria and Dr. Jennifer Mc Coy, presented the results of the audit to the public showing there were no fraud.

II) Machine to the CNE server (transmission): to measure the accuracy of the transmission, The Carter Center and the OAS performed a quick count (a projection of the results based on a statistical sample of the vote results at the mesas). Our observers watched the closing of the voting station and recorded the number of votes, calling these in to our headquarters where we could statistically project a result. Our results coincided with the CNE?s results with less than one percent difference. Sumate?s quick count is another test of the transmission.

III) Totalization within the CNE: The Carter Center took a sample of the results from the CNE?s server and made a projection of the final results, confirming the accurate totalization within the CNE server. Sumate?s parallel count of a large number of the mesas also confirms these results, as reflected in the press conference given by Sumate on August 17.

With regard to the concerns of the opposition about the coinciding results within mesas (the alleged caps or topes), after a careful scrutiny of the electronic data, we found 402 mesas with two or three machines that had the same result for the SI, and 311 mesas with two or three machines with the same results for the NO. We found
this similarities very strange and we made consultations with 2 foreign experts. Both confirmed our own and the OAS experts? opinions expressing not only is this mathematically possible, but since both NO and SI votes are affected, this indicates a random occurrence and not a pattern of fraud.


The Carter Center concludes that the automated machines worked well and the voting results do reflect the will of the people. Our quick count also included manual voting stations, and very few concerns were raised about these. We hope these conclusions will give the Venezuelan people confidence that the automated system functions well, particularly as the regional elections are approaching. The Center will make a Final Report to the CNE with the assessment of the overall process and specific recommendations to improve it.

The unusually high turn-out of 73% reflects the intense interest in this recall referendum. The Venezuelan people are to be commended for standing in line for hours without incidents, in this demonstration of civic participation and pride.

We urge all Venezuelans to accept these results and look to the future. The 41% of the population who voted for a change in the presidency have legitimate concerns that should be addressed. We urge the government to recognize the rights and the concerns of this large minority and to engage in discussions with them to create a common vision for the future of Venezuela. We also urge those in the minority to look for ways to work constructively with the government to achieve the dreams of all Venezuelans.


In order for Venezuela to move forward to the next electoral process scheduled for late September to choose governors and mayors, we respectfully suggest some steps that will help raise confidence in the process and ensure greater efficiency:

Automated systems are the wave of the future, but citizens need to have confidence in new systems. Although we believe the voting machines worked very well, we believe further assessment and information about such automated systems from other computerized companies would help to inform the Venezuelan people about all types of automated systems.

The CNE suffered from lack of internal coordination and communication, impeding the ability of the directorate to make timely decisions and the organization to work efficiently. We urge increased communication, coordination, and sharing of information among the directors and the divisions of the CNE.

Transparency is the fundamental basis of trust. At times during this past eight months, the lack of information from the CNE to the Venezuelan public, the political parties involved, and the international observers, raised unnecessary concerns and suspicions. We urge greater transparency at all of these levels to ensure confidence in future electoral processes.

Requiem for the comments section

With a heavy heart and an annoyed head, I decided to shut down the comments section. It's sad but true that in a time of such wideranging confusion, of so much contradictory information, such rampaging cognitive dissonance and of such unleashed passions, the forum had started to generate much more heat than light.

Right now, we need to pull ourselves together and think anew. We need to reflect, to consider. We need to ask ourselves impossible questions, or questions with impossible answers. We need to open up our minds to think the country afresh.

This is very difficult to do when you're surrounded by ideologically hostile people who amuse themselves by hurling insults at you and mocking you for asking questions they find uncomfortable. You know who you are - and, in a sense, you won this one too, by shutting down a space for dialogue and common-understanding, having drowned it in an ocean of bile and rancour.

Technology permitting, the forum will come back one day, when I find software that allows me to exercise stricter control on abusive posting, and when the political atmosphere is more amenable to genuine, meant-to-enlighten debate.

I don't see any point in continuing to read posts where folks argue for argument's sake, argue as though it was an olympic sport, where the purpose is to hold on to one's ground while scoring petty points against opponents. There's no point. Today's a time to stop, reflect, and digest. To ask what comes next, given that reality is what it is rather than what we would like it to be.

One thing's for sure: you can't reflect deeply in the middle of a shouting match...

Eyes wide shut... for Justin Delacour

In Venezula, during the mid eighties, in the middle of the damned "IV Republic", robbing restaurants became sort of a fashion. Once, three or four thieves robbed a luxury restaurant in Caracas called "La Madrina". After taking every cent from the cashier, and every piece of jewelry and de luxe watches from the clients present, one on the assailants took his weapon and, putting it on the brow of a fat man, cried: "I want the keys of the red Mercedes Benz parked in front of this place or I'll kill this man!" Absolute silence. The thief repeated his threat, and, after a longer silence, some clients, mostly middle class people, took their car keys and threw it to the thief saying: "It's not the red Mercedes, but take my car... please, don't kill the man". The thieves accepted, and left in four different cars, laughing. The life of the fat threatened man, a journalist and editor called Oscar Silva (alive and kicking, and able to tell the story), was saved by unknown, human, normal people, who willingly sacrificed their cars because, well, a human life was more valuable...
About five minutes later, a silent man stood up, went out, and drove away in his red Mercedes Benz. For several years afterwards, he told the event as a joke in every literary party. The punch line was: "Only a moron would have exchanged MY Mercedes for that stupid fat guy". The owner of the Mercedes was (and is) a well known "leftist", a "human rights activist", a writer, one of the most respected intellectuals of chavista nomenklatura: Luis Britto García, author, among other books, of Venezuela: Investigación de unos medios por encima de toda sospecha. Such an eye opener!