December 4, 2003

The thing about the actas

The other aspect that people often lose sight of is that we are ALL being spun silly with numbers. Somebody is plainly lying: all of these widely varying estimates (from 1.8 million to as many as 4.4 million signatures, depending on which side you believe) are all drawn from the same raw data.

These data are all drawn from the famous actas, an official CNE document signed officially not only by the official opposition organizers, but also by official pro and anti-recall witnesses at each of the 2700 official signing centers, as well as the official itinerant witnesses that accompanied all official itinerant signature gatherers, who were officially allowed to canvas signatures door-to-door in the official CNE rule book.

These actas contain precise signature tallies. The actas, and the tallies they generate, must be accepted as prima facie valid, simply because representatives of both sides already signed off on their validity one by one, at over 2700 signature gathering centers, all over the country (with the very occasional exception.)

Over 90% of collection centers are reported to have done their work under "absolute normality", as the politicians' cliche goes, meaning that the chavistas themselves have already signed off on the validity of the central ement in the signature collection process. It's important to understand that the Coordinadora cannot imaginably tamper with the actas now, because all parties have exact copies of the documents.

People outside Venezuela often find strange the elaborate checks and security features that were built the procedures. Even the forms were a monument to mutual mistrust. They were very officially printed on security paper issued by the same office that prints the nation's currency. Each form is numbered and assigned to a definite vote signing center. And chavista witnesses were present at *all* gathering centers, along with hundreds or thousands of signers, the army, the OAS, the Carter Center and the news media. A process cannot be more transparent than that!

I stress that the process was observed by 55 expert elections observers from the Carter Center/OAS mission dispatched to 20 of Venezuela's 24 states (counting Caracas.) Out of those seasoned observers, 50 of described the signature gathering process as good, while 5 thought it was "reasonable." These observations cannot be faked - Jimmy Carter did not win a nobel peace prize for lying.

What's more, thousands of rank-and-file soldiers, probably about half the army, directly witnessed with their eyes the turnout at each of the two signing processes. Many had not been allowed to watch any TV other than Canal 8 for months. This has to have been a very big eye opener for many of them.

So the chavistas, the opposition, the CNE and the Carter Center/OAS mission all have the same raw data. With the raw data, it's banal to obtain a precise raw signature tally - just a few hours of database work. The reality is that all the main actors know the real number, and it's the same real number they know. So somebody is evidently lying through their teeth.

Now, cross your heart and hope to die, what do you really think the real story is? Was the process 90% clean, or was there mass-scale fraud? Whose version do you believe?

Jimmy Carter's, or Hugo Chavez's?