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James Carter

Yesterday, during a panel discussion organized by the Miami Herald, Jennifer McCoy of the Carter Center presented the Center’s “Executive Summary of Comprehensive Report” on Venezuela’s recall referendum. The 14-page report presents numerous criticisms and recommendations about the recall referendum process, but also confirms that the referendum’s final result legitimately affirmed President Chavez mandate.

According to the report, “The presidential recall process was a novel electoral event for Venezuela. The process suffered from some irregularities, delays, politicization, and intimidation.” But it also says, “Nevertheless, we note it is important to distinguish between irregularities and fraudulent acts that could change the outcome of a process. It is the Center’s finding that the official results reflect the will of the Venezuelan electorate as expressed on Aug. 15, 2004.” (emphasis included in the report)

The report then goes on to list a series of recommendations to various government authorities, but especially to the country’s National Electoral Council (CNE).

With regard to the signature collection process, the report highlights the mixed CNE and political party responsibility in organizing it. It recommends that it should be one or the other. “The CNE should decide on a system of either party control of signature collection (necessitating stricter controls during the post-signing verification stage to assess the identity and will of the signer), or CNE control of signature collection (necessitating stricter controls during collection of signatures and eliminating the need for lengthy post-signing verifications.)”

An issue the report raises that the Carter Center originally raised during the signature “repair” or re-certification process is that government officials encouraged people to remove their names during this certification process because they “repent” having signed the petition for the recall referendum. The Carter Center argues that this should not be an option during the “repair” process.

As it was, though, only 90,000 signers out of about 3 million chose to remove their names. An important criticism of the Carter Center’s report with regard to the referendum is that, “As the process evolved, the CNE often lacked transparency in decision-making and never sought to remedy this problem. This issue led to suspicion of and doubt about individual directors and the body as a whole.”

The Carter Center makes numerous recommendations with regard to increasing Venezuelans’ confidence in the electoral process. Among others, they suggest, an external audit of the electoral registry, a better audit of selected voting machines immediately after the vote, more transparency with regard to the CNE’s decision-making, and greater openness towards national and international observers.

The report also address the opposition’s claims of fraud during the recall referendum, which are largely based on statistical analyses of the results that say that the statistical patterns were very improbable. The report however says, “Carter Center technical experts (in consultation with OAS technical experts) investigated the allegations presented to the mission in writing by the Coordinadora Democrática. The Center also consulted the conclusions of other independent statisticians who investigated additional reports from Venezuelan academics about similar mathematical patterns. These patterns were not found to provide a basis to assert fraud.”

The report concludes by saying that “the recall referendum process suffered from numerous irregularities throughout the entire process, most centering around the lack of transparency of the CNE in its decision-making and its ad hoc implementation of the recall referendum process. Regulations were issued late, were incomplete, and/or unclear. The divisions that existed in the CNE body itself were extremely problematic, but they reflected the divisions in the country.”

The report also lists a series of tasks for de-polarizing Venezuelan society, such as increasing confidence in the electoral system, creating more equity in the electoral process, no partisanship in the provision of government services, a constructive opposition, stronger checks and balances in the state, and social reconciliation, via the media.

With regard to the last point in the media, the report says, “The media culture of Venezuela exacerbates, rather than defuses, divisions and conflict in the country. It encourages opponents to communicate through the press rather than negotiate directly. The practice of both public and private media reporting any statement by any protagonist without investigation or fact checking encourages the spread of misinformation, inflammatory rhetoric, and the perpetuation of two opposing virtual realities.”

Nicolas Maduro, a pro-Chavez member of the National Assembly, said that with regard to the recommendations for revising the electoral registry, there is a process in place, which the Supreme Court had mandated. Asdrubal Aguiar, one of the leaders of the opposition coalition Democratic Coordinator, said that the Carter Center report was released “too late” and it “reveals the rush that existed on August 15,” when the observers supported the official results. According to Aguiar, “It seems contradictory that the Carter Center supports the results when it recognizes that there never was a transparent, equitable, and impartial process.”

For the Carter Center report see (as PDF file): EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF COMPREHENSIVE REPORT