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Venezuela: A Referendum Update

By Sol Maria Castro,

The process to ratify the signatures collected in November 2003 to petition a presidential recall referendum started Friday at 6 am and proceeded until Sunday. Electoral officers said the results would be announced no later than June 4.

By noon on Friday, almost a fourth of the signatures to be confirmed had been so in most places reported in Caracas and different states with a very small percentage of signers withdrawing (between 0.5 and 2%). Unofficial figures vary between the National Elections Council, the Democratic Coordinator, the government and the National Armed Forces. The opposition claims that more than enough of the 500,000 signatures needed for a recall referendum were collected.

Director Jorge Rodríguez announced the Repairs Procedure was “normal” nationwide, and only 24 of the 2,607 repairs center opened with delays on Friday. He also announced the Situational Room for Repairs issued two communiqués, one to allow reporters and journalists near the tables in the repair center and another to remind repair agents and CUFAN officers that IDs with “Republic of Venezuela” are legitimate identification cards if they were issued before 1999. Earlier, the Democratic Coordinator complained that people were sent away if their IDs didn’t read “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” (post-Chavez country’s name change.)

CD Coordinator, Miranda State Governor, Enrique Mendoza, said the process was meeting all the expectations and the numbers for this first day were above the estimations. However, the CD registered hundreds of irregularities during the process which will be reported to the international observers and the electoral authorities.

OAS Secretary General César Gaviria arrived in Caracas on Friday. He met with Vice-President José Vicente Rangel. Gaviria said he hoped that the process would be held with fewer problems than those observed in previous stages of the petition process. "We hope to have a more transparent event" this time. CNE directors said the mission would remain in the country “despite earlier conflicts.” Gaviria ratified the observers will stay in the country until the announcement of the final results. Jimmy Carter also arrived and met with President Chavez. “After a meeting with Jimmy Carter, head of the Carter Center, President Hugo Chávez urged to accept the results of the signature-checking process. "Let's keep the democratic process running in Venezuela," he said. Carter and Gaviria visited several signing centers. Carter also met with electoral officials, who assured him that they would announce the results on June 4.

Irregularities detected and recorded:

v Republic Plan (Plan Republica) military personnel have exceeded their functions by requesting ID papers or verifying birthdates with ID cards.

v In some centers agents slowed down the process. Many people, including the elderly, stood in long lines for hours. (Operación “Morrocoy” - Turtle)

v Agents and military personnel rejected ID cards if they only read “Republic of Venezuela”, and not “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”;

v A woman was arrested in Miranda State with three Acts of Proceedings already filled in.

v Party headquarters were raided. In Caracas an intelligence police DISIP unit raided a call center installed by Primero Justicia without a legal warrant, alleging they suspected a crime was being committed there. The center, which had been operating for days, was used to give people information about repair centers. Similar raids also took place in other party headquarters over the weekend, including COPEI (Social Cristiano) One AD (Accion Democratica) headquarter was destroyed by Chavistas.

v In Cojedes State, National Guards arrested three Súmate volunteers (María Ochoa, Ramón Araujo and Xiomara Marcano) in Tinaquillo, accusing them of carrying propaganda and publicity material. They were transferred to the 23rd Battalion. (Friday)

v In Bolivar State, six people were arrested for complaining about the show-down tactics. (Friday)

v In Zulia State, six people were also arrested and transferred to the Marite Center for further investigation while 8 were injured when they were hit by pro-government thugs with bats. (Friday)

v Navy privates had told reporters they had direct orders from the CNE not to let them get near or take pictures of the tables. In Maiquetía La Verdad journalist Carmen Márquez was prevented from entering the school with a FAL.

v People have been mysteriously “caught with money and fake ID cards” to pressure others to withdraw their signatures.

v Pro-government armed men on motorcycles rode by the signing centers attempting to intimidate those standing in line.

v In Amazonas State, two people were arrested: Nixon Maniglia, local legislator and a volunteer from Súmate. (Friday)

v 11 volunteers were arrested in Carabobo State; four remain incarcerated. (Friday)

v On Saturday, tensions rose, as it became evident that the opposition would collect enough signatures. “There were shots, injuries, detentions, attacks to journalists, searches in political parties and delays in the claim centers in the second of the three days established for the citizens to ratify or withdraw their signatures in the presidential recall petition. The third day looks quite the same,” reports El Universal.

v In one questionable measure, CNE President Francisco Carrasquero, president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), ordered electoral officials observers to "carefully check all identity cards" of voters, as there is "serious evidence" that said identity documents have been cloned or forged.

Monsignor José Luis Azuaje on behalf of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference (CEV) asked all political actors to respect the will of the people who will express through the repairs procedure and the CNE authorities to carry out their responsibility.

Vice-president José Vicente Rangel claimed the government may decide not to accept Fernando Jaramillo, president of the OAS mission in Venezuela due to his alleged bias in favor of the opposition.

By Friday night, unofficially there are between 300,000 and 400,000 signatures ratified, and some 25,000 signatures withdrawn. The opposition claims it collected more than enough signatures for a recall referendum.

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