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Nearly four weeks after the recall referendum against President Chavez, the opposition submitted its preliminary report on the fraud it believes was committed during the referendum. The report was presented on Wednesday to the public in Caracas and then on Thursday to OAS General Secretary Cesar Gaviria in Washington, DC. Another analysis was also released this week by two economists, who conducted a detailed statistical analysis of the referendum vote, commissioned by the opposition NGO Súmate, to see if they could detect any patterns that might indicate fraud. Pro-government spokespersons dismissed both reports as being desperate attempts of the opposition to cover up its defeat.

On september 11th, two representatives of the Democratic Coordinator, Delsa Solorzano and Enrique Naime, presented the opposition report to the National Electoral Council (CNE) as a basis for formally challenging the results of the recall referendum. According to Solorzano, the referendum is being challenged in its entirety because “the multiple defects that occurred during the realization of the presidential recall referendum absolutely nullify the results obtained.”

The preliminary report, which the opposition grouping “Democratic Coordinator” had organized, is nearly 70 pages long and details problems and irregularities that it says it found in the referendum process, beginning as early as the beginning of the Chavez presidency. By and large, the report reads as a compendium of complaints that the opposition has had against the Chavez government ever since he was first elected in 1998.

The report’s essence, however, which deals with the referendum, touches on three main areas. First, it questions the validity of the electoral registry. Second, it presents statistical calculations that suggest fraud. Third, it doubts the transparency of the process. According to the report’s coordinator, Tulio Alvarez, much of the fraud is based on a fraudulent electoral registry. Key to this claim is that between the last elections in 2000 and the recall referendum in 2004 the number of Venezuelans registered rose from 48% of the total population to 53%. The report argues that many irregularities in the registration process, such as “quick” registrations and nationalizations, fraudulently added hundreds of thousands of voters who should not have been registered, particularly during the last two months before the referendum, when the registry should have been closed for further additions. Alvarez says that this alone is enough reason to nullify the referendum. “If there is fraud in the registry, there is fraud in the vote. Nothing else needs to be proven,” said Alvarez. As an important element in the false registration of citizens Alvarez also mentioned that in numerous voting centers the there are more people registered than are inhabitants of the town, according to the last census.

The second main area of presumed fraud involves suspicions based on a statistical analysis of the referendum results. The report mentions the supposed “caps” on yes votes, which several analysts that the Carter Center and the opposition had commissioned have already dismissed. Also included as part of the report, is the study conducted by the two economists, which Súmate commissioned. According to their analysis, which presents a very complicated and technical statistical examination of the referendum data, a portion of the voting centers were manipulated. Their analysis rests largely on relating the referendum data to the exit polls and the signature collection for convoking the referendum that was conducted in late 2003.

Finally, the report lists a number of restrictions that were placed on the international observers and criticizes the Carter Center in particular, for having agreed to the observation procedures. One of the report’s main recommendations is for the opposition to take Smartmatic, the voting machine manufacturer, and Verizon, the main shareholder in Venezuela’s telephone company CANTV, which transmitted the voting results, to court. According to the opposition, these companies are liable under U.S. law, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Government Rebuttal

Government spokespersons immediately rebutted each of the opposition’s reports points. With regard to the electoral registry, Samuel Moncada, the chairperson of the pro-Chavez campaign in the referendum, said that the opposition is promoting xenophobia with its criticism that people who lived in Venezuela for over 20 years were nationalized. Also, rather than manipulate the registry in favor of the government, the electoral council for the first time cleaned the registry of past fraud patterns by eliminating over 25,000 deceased people from the list. Moncada pointed out that while the registry had indeed increased to 53% of Venezuela’s population, or from 12 to 14 million in the past year, there are 16 million Venezuelans of voting age, which means that two million more could and should still be registered.

Referring to the towns where there are more Venezuelans registered than live according to the last census, Moncada pointed out that these tended to be towns where people from surrounding rural areas came into the town to vote, people who are not accounted for as inhabitants of the town in the census. Many of the examples Tulio Alvarez gave of such instances were in small towns in the state of Amazonas.

With regard to the statistical analyses, Moncada pointed out that even among opposition analysts there is no agreement about their findings. For example, the economists Súmate hired, Ricardo Haussman of Harvard University who also was a minister under Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, and Roberto Rigobon, from MIT, dismiss the idea that there were “caps” on the opposition’s yes vote. Also, in other areas their analysis was extremely complicated, so that very few people could make sense of their analysis.

Finally, Moncada asked a number of questions, such as why the opposition promised it would accept the verdict of the international observers, only to go back on this promise? Also, “why is it so difficult to find proof [of fraud] if merely ten minutes after the results were announced, they already claimed fraud? With a fraud this big, of over two million votes, it should be easy to find the proof.”