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Venezuela: Sumate's Maria Corina Machado Visits the Council of the Americas

By Alexandra Beech,

New York, New York - During a visit to the Council of the Americas in New York on July 7, Sumate Vice President Maria Corina Machado said that the “path to the presidential recall referendum has been fraught with illegality and unfair play by the government.” Given Venezuela’s “ineffective institutions”, said Machado, a “poor, polarized population”, and a “deteriorated economy,” the referendum “will take place in an extremely unstable environment.”

Among the irregularities that Machado cited were:

a. Vote-buying – The government has disbursed funds under social and educational programs; it has offered naturalization to foreign residents in exchange for votes.

b. Intimidation tactics – the government has fired public sector employees who signed previously for the referendum, cancelled payments to retirees, retaliated against military personnel who signed, and “cancelled contracts with government suppliers”; around one million less voters signed between the first and third petition drives; 95,000 withdrew their signatures during the “reparos” process”; Machado denounced a “rumor campaign” which questions the secrecy of the vote through the use of fingerprint identification technology.

c. Media Abuses – A reputable study recently revealed that the government has broadcast twice the campaign material as the opposition, using “nationwide simulcast transmissions on all radio and TV stations” to disseminate information.

d. Electoral Irregularities – The government has created “room for doubt during the referendum” by the use of an “untested automated voting system”; in addition, it has shunned and discredited international observers, and rejected proposals for parallel and manual counts and other checks on results.

e. Structural advantages - The government has placed new voting centers in locations populated mainly by its supporters, created confusion by redistributing voters to new centers shortly before the event, and “purged voting centers and electoral organisms of personnel who signed petitions.”

In order the minimize fraud, Machado said that Sumate is planning several activities on August 15. Among them are a quick count of samples, exit polls, a “real time exhaustive count”, and the “totalization of official voting center sheet results.” In addition, at least one Sumate volunteer will remain at each voting center to monitor that the centers open and close on time with required materials, security issues and the presence of personnel and observers.

In addition, Machado said that a small margin win by either side “may bring instability”, and that Sumate was prepared to organize primaries shortly after the referendum if the opposition were to gather enough votes to revoke Chavez.

Machado said that Sumate, which has provided logistical support during signature drives, planned to play a future role in Venezuelan politics, including monitoring upcoming electoral processes, educating citizens about political rights through a program titled “SUMARED”, and “fostering national reconciliation” through a program called “CONVIVE”.

Machado, the former president of the Atenea Foundation which assists abandoned children, could face conspiracy charges as a founder of Sumate for receiving funds from the National Endowment for Democracy. The charges carry a prison term of eight to sixteen years.

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