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The consequences of the recall's result in Venezuela

By Daniel Duquenal

Thursday 26, August 2004 - The electoral fraud has a long story. It is rather oxymoronic to consider "electoral consequences" when one side claims victory and the other claims fraud. "Should we wait for the verification of an eventual electoral fraud?" Really, not. "Why?" the reader may ask. Because the electoral fraud started long before August 15, and already the August referendum was tainted before the first ballot was cast.

In other words, before we look into the consequences of August 15 results, it would be useful to write down the Decalogue of all the electoral frauds committed in Venezuela since September 2003. The genesis of the problem is in April 2002.

"Would not that be an idle exercise at that point?", the reader may ask now. No, if you watched yesterday rather extraordinary performance by OAS secretary Gaviria. While on one hand he was grudgingly accepting the result, on the other hand he was denouncing a state where all the public authorities depend on a single man, Hugo Chavez. That is, Gaviria went as far as saying that the OAS normal actions as observers were obstructed at every step due to the simple fact that all the public institutions are filled with "friends" of Chavez. Thus a system rigged heavily in favor of Chavez. Imagine that! About time you admitted it, Mr. Gaviria! (1)

So letís go and review how the fraud started.

In April 2002 Chavez was briefly ousted. It is my guess that a few things did happen in the inner circles of power. First, the realization that popular support was not all what they thought it was. Clearly, a new constitution by itself was not enough: more goodies had to be delivered to rally the populace. I also think that as of April 2002 the Cuban influence within the Chavez administration became crucial. The messy administration from recent years was a cause of the April disaster and Cubans knew at least how to put political order in the country. After three years of observation they had gauged enough of what Venezuela was to start calling some of the shots. Soon the Cuban influence was going to increase to amazing levels.

The big problem after April 2002 was the defection of a significant amount of representatives in the National Assembly, cutting what was once an ample 2/3 majority into a thread bare one. It was crucial to radicalize the political situation in order to reach two objectives: maintain the life line dispatches of oil to Cuba and pass a few more laws, by all means, in order to secure a weakened power. It is in this light that the general strike of December 2002 must be now understood. Chavez was not going to rest until he could take complete control of PDVSA and thus bypass the fiscal controls that were becoming harder and harder to accept as the financial aims of the "revolution" were shifting to high gear. That a crisis to force some issues was Chavez's goal has been admitted by Chavez himself in his state of the union speech, early 2004.

February 2003 saw Chavez finally controlling PDVSA. The oil giant revenues, increasing by the day as oil prices went up, were now free for Chavez to dispose (2). This coincided with the second successful petition drive against Chavez. This brought a new problem for him: elections were unavoidable in a not so distant future, and after the strike and April 2002, there was no certainty that Chavez could win free and fair elections. This is the origin of a series of initiatives: the Misiones social programs, the rigging of the judicial system, and the control of the electoral system.

What was the goal of the "Misiones"? After years of inefficiency and neglect Chavez realized that he had to deliver something. The "Misiones" social programs were launched in the first months of 2003. Of a clear populist bent, even if sometimes perhaps justifiable, the Misiones were designed from the beginning to secure chavismo bases. One thing that is important to realize, and that a casual foreign observer might miss, is that all the recall election campaign of Chavez is based on barely more than a year of Misiones. The only pre-2003 "achievement" claimed is the 1999 constitution. A tacit acknowledgements that 2000, 2001 and 2002 were lost years.

The two best known misiones were Mision Barrio Adentro (Cuban doctors in the deprived areas) and Mision Robinson (Cuban instructors and materiel to alphabetize a couple of million of adults). More were to follow, including Mercal which aimed at controlling the supply of food stuff to a given sectors of the population (and using Cuban trading companies). However the free spending misiones programs that by late 2003 had become an obvious vote buying machinery, might not be enough to secure a Chavez victory if he were obliged to go to any sort of contest. It was crucial to delay any election as much as possible to let the magic of the misiones operate. It was thus important to create a legal frame work to thwart as much as possible the efforts of the opposition that had chosen the electoral way, in order to delay at all cost any election.

The first task was to force feed the country with an Electoral Board, CNE, where a 3 to 2 pro Chavez majority would call all the main shots. This group, named in August 2003, was going to prove itself more subservient to Chavez than even its most suspicious critics were predicting! The number of tricks used through the signature collection process, the illegal actions and rules modifications happening at each turn of events, the inability to secure a fair and efficient election in August once the signature battle was finally lost will be subjects of many books. It fair to say that the CNE has been committing electoral fraud since its inception. August 15 was just the recent one and certainly not the last one.

In any normal country such an electoral board would have long been fired, and perhaps even in jail. After all that is what happened to the 2000 CNE who was fired when the elections of May 2000 had to be postponed. But times have changed, now even public outrage at hours and hours of voting lines only get a lackluster apology from one of the directors of the CNE. Somehow observers seem to have forgotten already the 2000 episode when still some shame inhabited public officials.

But, just in case, the packing of the High Court went apace, ensuring that any adverse electoral decision could be promptly countered, and more importantly that any illegal maneuvering from the CNE would be duly backed. The most spectacular example was the decision of the Electoral Hall invalidating the CNE annulment of signatures. Not only the annulment was not reversed but the judges that decided on that measure have been forced out of the High Court. Add to electoral fraud, judicial fraud.

All of this took place under the very noses of the Carter Center and the OAS. And only now we can see Gaviria finally acknowledging all of these "marramucias" (dirty tricks). It might a be a sure bet to state that Venezuela might turn out to be the political grave of Gaviria and Carter. Oh well...

In other words, any fraud that might have happened on August 15 is just one more in the large heap of fraudulent acts committed by a coterie of public officials working full time to preserve Chavez in office. At taxpayer expense, that is.


1) incidentally the OAS has still to officially endorsed the vote, by the way

2) the production of oil, according to all serious foreign accounts, has not recovered its pre strike levels. No serious audit has come out of PDVSA since 2002. PDVSA has even buying bonds back to escape the scrutiny of the Securities exchange commission of the US. The only reason for the money boon to Chavez is the Iraqi situation and the ever increasing oil demand from China and India.

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