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Venezuela: Of cheap electoral tricks and paranoia

By Miguel Octavio

If the creativity that is sometimes used in Venezuela to cheat or trick, were channeled into positive activities, maybe the country would not find itself where it is today, full of problems and in the midst of a political confrontation that it’s unclear how it will be resolved. Case in point have been all of the tricks that the CNE has managed to pull out of thin air in the last few days, all of them aimed at blocking the opposition vote in different ways:

Manipulation of the Electoral Registry: The Electoral Registry has been manipulated to outrageous levels. People who have been registered to vote for decades in one polling station have been moved somewhere else without having requested it. And the changes are not from one part of the city to another, they are from one part of the state to another or from one state to the other, usually far away states. Only in my office two relatives of coworkers who live in Caracas, have been moved to Barinas state and Anzoategui state, both of them a good four to five hour drive from Caracas.

What has been done is such a criminal act, that only the opposition is complaining about it. Why? Because up to now all of the people that have been reported as having been transferred from one polling station to another have been people who signed in favor of holding a recall vote against President Hugo Chavez. Moreover, the chief victim of this act of thuggery has been Zulia state, the state where Chavez is the least popular. In the 2000 election, Hugo Chavez won nationally with 60% of the total vote, but in Zulia received only 45% of the total number cast. Even more ominous for Chavez, Zulia is the state with the highest absolute number of registered voters.

What is truly bothersome about this, is that in any country with independent powers, there would be an investigation to determine if everyone affected is indeed someone who signed the petition to hold the recall and who were the people within the computer division of the CNE that are responsible for this outrage. Instead, all we get is a call for everyone that has been moved to fill out a form, within 48 hours, to correct this situation. In Zulia state alone, there are already close to 8,000 voters that have complained about where they are now registered according to CNE Director Jorge Rodriguez. Sumate is reporting that in that state alone, more than 20,000 voters were moved to a different state and 96,000 had their location within the state changed.

But no such investigation is taking place here to find the political criminals who orchestrated this farce within the CNE or if any of the pro-Chavez CNE Directors was involved in planning and executing this outrage. Where is the People’s Ombudsman? Where is the Attorney General? Probably campaigning for Chavez.

Blocking the vote of Venezuelans abroad: According to the country’s Constitution (ART. 63) Venezuelans have the right to vote, but somehow the CNE skipped this right with the petition drive for the recall referendum, arguing that it was not a vote, despite the fact that requirements ended up being more stringent than for a vote.

Despite the interest in the current recall vote, the final Electoral Registry showed two weeks ago a decrease in the total number of voters registered, which was clearly absurd given the interest in the recall vote. This was later given a very simple explanation: Only 5% of the requests to register abroad were ever processed by the CNE, essentially violating the rights of thousands of citizens.

As if this were not enough, yesterday, the CNE, with the vote of the three pro-Chavez Directors of the CNE, decided to change our Constitutional rights, by requiring that citizens will need besides their passport or National ID card, a certificate of residence in that foreign country. This obviously excludes a large number of voters, such as students, those with two passports and illegals. Moreover, each country may or may not have such a certification. In fact, I do not believe such a document exists in Venezuela. The CNE should have been very specific in what constitutes proof of residency; I am sure that many Consulates will abuse citizens by not allowing them to vote, by placing very stringent requirements in what is admitted as proof of residency.

Why the interest in blocking the vote of Venezuelans abroad? Easy, in the 2000 Presidential election won by Hugo Chavez with 60% of the total vote, Venezuelans abroad barely gave him 30% of the total vote, a number that has certainly diminished in the last few years.

Removing those that signed the recall petition as witnesses: In Venezuela, polling booths are manned by “witnesses” chosen at random among the voters registered at each location. It is obligatory to show up if you are chosen, unless you can be excused for health or age reasons. Well, the CNE decided to remove anyone that signed the recall petition from participating. But you see, it did not ban those that signed petitions in favor of the Chavista Deputies from participating, Thus, the people manning the polling stations will be either pro-Chavez or those that do not even care about any of the democratic processes that have taken place in Venezuela in the last year. So much for a participatory democracy!

While all of this is going on, each misstep, confusion and trick adds days to an already delayed timetable. Two days ago I thought about writing about my current paranoia that all of this is being done on purpose to simply have the whole process collapse and postpone the recall vote until after August 19th. when Chavez, if recalled, would be replaced by the Vice-President and not by a newly elected President. I decided not to write anything, so as not to suggest anything that I only had circumstantial evidence for. But by now, others have publicly expressed such concerns, such as Causa R Deputy Andres Velasquez, who claims the whole process is being boycotted from within the CNE and CNE Director Ezequiel Zamora who said today that he is concerned about the delays and the CNE has to accelerate things or the peace of the country may be in danger.

Paranoia? Exaggeration? Far fetched? Maybe, but after seeing so many tricks and abuses in the last few weeks, it would not surprise me if the whole process is short circuited if things are not looking up for the Government days before the recall vote is scheduled to take place. Hope it never happens, but…

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