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Venezuela: OAS' Gaviria reports "problems of equity" in referendum process

By Sara Carolina Diaz, El Universal

The mission of international electoral observers of the Organization of American States (OAS) presented to the OAS Permanent Council in Washington a report on the August 15 recall vote on President Hugo Chávez, ratifying the results the National Electoral Council (CNE) has disclosed, according to which the Venezuelan President won the election.

"No fraud was committed in the electoral process I witnessed," said Valter Pecly Moreira, head of the OAS mission in Venezuela, when making an oral account on the events that took place in Venezuela in order to celebrate the August 15 vote.

The OAS Secretary General, César Gaviria, also participated in the presentation. He indicated that the electoral results echoed the people's will, but problems of "equity" were detected during the process.

"When a President in Latin America is running for immediate re-election, it is very hard to create conditions for equity. We have seen this in other countries," he said.

The circumstances in Venezuela are very peculiar, he added, "as President Chávez had a significant majority in the Constituent Assembly, and in the processes there is a concentration of friends of the President, and at the CNE and the Supreme Tribunal (of Justice) there are people of the parties supporting him." According to Gaviria, in certain cases, the CNE "ended up making partisan decisions."

Nevertheless, he claimed that said circumstances do not "vitiate" the process. "That is a factor in the political game, and it has consequences that are not very desirable or convenient for democracy."

During their presentation before the hemispheric organization, Pecly and Gaviria referred to fraud claims the Venezuelan opposition has made in connection with the referendum. In this sense, Gaviria ensured he is to "evaluate carefully" any evidence Chávez opponents may submit.

Tensions, discussions, and problems

The OAS Secretary General stated that the hardest time OAS representatives faced in Venezuela was the moment when the signatures supporting the recall petition were verified.

"Achieving the revoking referendum was no bed of roses. All kinds of problems emerged, many problems. I even had an argument with (President Chávez). But, in the end, we managed to attain an electoral solution," Gaviria explained. He insisted that OAS faced tensions and even disagreements with the top electoral body, which made him question the OAS participation as an international observer in the referendum.

"We had many tensions with the CNE; we had many problems. That is why the process was delayed for some months. Some members of the CNE had a very hard stance almost until the end. They said we were just like the other guests, and therefore we would only be allowed to visit predetermined places and would have no chance to implement a quick vote count mechanism, for they found it unacceptable. Honestly, I even thought we were not going to be invited (to the referendum), even though we had accompanied them along the whole process," Gaviria told the hemispheric forum.

Gaviria, who was a facilitator at the Negotiation and Agreement Table that operated in Venezuela from November 2002 to May 2003, ensured that the OAS ended up with serious problems of credibility and relations with both the government and the CNE.

Translated by Maryflor Suárez

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