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Venezuela: The sheer mediocrity of Chavez’ advocates

By Aleksander Boyd

London 03 June 2004 – Few days ago the government sponsored news outlet Venezuelanalysis ran a piece penned by Margarita López-Maya and Luis Lander titled “Democracy and the Recall Referendum in Venezuela.” The aim of the piece, as customary, was to trick readers into the belief that the CNE had actually acted in close observance of the law when it decided to cast aside about 870.000 signatures for having similar calligraphy. In order to convince readers of the equanimity of its writers, the editors at Venezuelanalysis tend to include short bios of the authors. As such Margarita López-Maya was presented as “…Ph.D., is a Professor at the Center for Development Studies at the Central University of Venezuela, Caracas.” The academic experience of colleague and co-author Luis Lander was summarised as “is a Professor with the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences at the Central University of Venezuela, Caracas.” To further stress their academic profile they closed the paragraph thusly “They have authored a number of articles and books on contemporary Venezuela and Latin America.”

Having read the article I found quite shocking the salient ignorance of Venezuela’s electoral legislation of these ‘academics’ when without compunctions of mind they stated publicly the following:

“The second and more serious problem was that more than 800,000 signers did not fill out their own petitions. This was in clear violation of a rule requiring all signers to print their own name and other information on the petitions. This rule also exists in California and other U.S. states, and is designed to prevent fraud. It was well-publicized in advance not only by the CNE, but also by the opposition, with television commercials.”

Confused by the academics I invited them to clarify the issue. Dr. Margarita López-Maya had the courtesy of replying to my request and sent me the following email:

En las "Normas para regular procesos de referendos ...." del 25 de septiembre se dice:

In the “Norms to regulate referenda…” of September 25th it is said:

"La solicitud de convocatoria de referendo es un acto personalísimo, por lo que no se admitirá poder de representación o autorización para firmar por otro."

The request for a recall referendum is a personal act, therefore representation or authorization powers ceded to another person shall not be admitted.

En varios instrumentos regulatorios del proceso se dieron pautas explicitas. Por ejemplo, la “Circular No. 16” para directores electorales regionales del 16 de noviembre de 2003 reza así: “En el caso que el firmante sea analfabeta, ciego o de edad muy avanzada, el agente de recolección deberá colocar el nombre, apellido, cédula de identidad y fecha de nacimiento en los espacios correspondientes a cada uno de ellos, le hará estampar la huella dactilar en su espacio y dejará constancia de ello en la casilla destinada para la firma. En el caso de que el firmante carezca de las extremidades superiores, el agente de recolección deberá registrar los datos en las casillas correspondientes y colocar la observación en casilla destinada para la huella dactilar.”

In various regulatory instruments of the process, explicit provisions were established. For instance “Circular No. 16” for regional electoral directors dated November 16th 2003 cites: “In the case where the petitioner be illiterate, blind or elderly, the collection agent shall write the name, last name, ID number and date of birth in the spaces provided for in the form, and shall also assist the petitioner in putting his/her fingerprint, writing a note in that respect in the space provided for the signature. Should the petitioner lack arms, the collection agent shall register his/her data in the spaces provided for in the form and shall write an observation in the space destined for the fingerprint.”

Las propagandas de SUMATE, Comando Ayacucho y CNE previas al proceso explicaron claramente que cada quien debía llenar su petición de su puño y letra. Las entrevistas a rectores como Jorge Rodríguez fueron muy explícitas y detalladas. Yo en particular las recuerdo pues pasé varios días en cama por dengue y las vi. Repito, el CNE pudo haberlas invalidado. Así lo exigió el Comando ayacucho y en otros países, como EEUU, no dudo que las hubiera invalidado. Aquí prefirió conciliar y habló de "duda razonable", llevándolas a reparo.

Sumate’s, Comando Ayacucho’s and CNE’s media ads broadcast prior to the collection drive clearly explained that each person had to fill the petition in his own hand. The interviews made to electoral directors, such as Jorge Rodriguez, were very detailed and explicit. I remember particularly well for I was in bed for a few days owing to dengue fever and saw them. I repeat the CNE could have invalidated those forms. Thus was demanded by Comando Ayacucho and in other countries, such as the USA, I have no doubt that the said forms would have been invalidated. Here, the CNE preferred to conciliate and spoke of “reasonable doubt”, permitting the electorate to ratify them.


Margarita López Maya

Her reply has not got one shred of legal substance. However she is not alone in the “explain the unexplainable” campaign. Marc Weisbrot just chipped in with another masterful piece, whereby, utilising his trademark academic style, he pretends to convince us about the existence of the aforementioned circular, although this time round the evidence appears to have changed dates without them realising. Thus Dr. López-Maya refers to a memo distributed internally by the CNE to regional directors on November 16th 2.003 (it is rather difficult to imagine the CNE reaching out to deliver circulars to its regional directors on a Sunday…) but Weisbrot, shockingly enough, emphasizes upon the very same memo to excuse the illegality of the electoral board's actions noting:

“The opposition accused President Chavez of trying to illegitimately deny the people's right to a referendum, and the press here has overwhelmingly echoed this theme. But some vital facts were omitted from the story: the disputed signatures were in violation of the electoral rules, and could legitimately have been thrown out altogether. Furthermore, these rules -- requiring signers to fill out their own name, address and other information -- were well-known to organizers on both sides and publicized in advance of the signature gathering process. [1] These rules are also common in the United States, including California. [1] CNE Circular Number 16, dated 25 November 2003.”

What is even more striking, and damaging to whatever credibility of Chavez’ advocates is left, is the fact that nowhere in the CNE legislation database can that circular be found. Moreover, I took the pain of researching also Venezuela's official gazette to no avail. Another interesting aspect is that Venezuelanalysis seems to have removed the whole article off the site for some reason.

Ruth Capriles from NGO Veedores said in an email that such circular was a subterfuge produced at a later date by the CNE and it is not an official resolution. My invitation to the useful idiots defending the indefensible remains, could you please show the world the article, provision, law, decree or statute violated that explains the utterly illegal behaviour of the CNE? If that task is somewhat daunting, could any of you show those ads or interviews you are referring to? Considering the role and duties of the CNE of informing the population about every aspect related to electoral processes, where does their efficiency stand if one takes into account that a circular containing such crucial information was distributed internally only three days before the commencement of the collection drive? Anyone care to show us the circular?

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