Saturday, November 26, 2005

The silence of certain defeat 

Listen to the debate over what is going on in Venezuela long enough and ther is one common opposition refrain that you are sure to hear over and over. That refrain is that Chavez is a "dictator", a "strongman", or at very least an "autocrat". Of course, in Venezuela there are free and openly contested elections, there is complete freedom of speech, there is freedom of association, and there is certainly a large and vibrant section of Venenuelan society that openly opposes Chavez. So how can anyone possibly justify using the afore mentioned adjectives? The response generally given is that Chavez controls everything in Venezuela - that is there is no seperation of powers and the executive, in this case Chavez, controls everything. It is this supposed total control of the entire system of government that makes him something less than a normal democratically elected President.

Is there any truth to this? No. For example, he can´t control the courts because under the Venezuelan constitution judges are named by the National Assembly, not the President. The opposition retort will be "get real, everyone knows he controls the National Assembly". In fact, the National Assembly is often referred to as a "rubber stamp" body. Is it? Again the answer is clearly no. All the members of the National Assembly are elected in contested elections and have their own mandates. Many are pro-Chavez and many are opposed to Chavez. But it is their decision who they support. And as they are elected with their own mandates and serve out their terms no matter who they support or how their allegiances change over time they are in no way controlled by Chavez or anyone else. In point of fact, the pro-Chavez forces have a very narrow majority in the National Asssembly precisely because a number of deputies who were elected on pro-Chavez platforms later changed their minds and are now opposed to Chavez. And of course they were completely free to do this. That is how the republican form of government works.

The National Assembly is not the only example of this. There are many other office holders who oppose Chavez, some of whom won office by being pro-Chavez. A prime example is Alfredo Pena. He was elected mayor of greater Caracas as a pro-Chavez politician. He later changed and became rabidly anti-Chavez. So much so that the police force that he controlled, the Metropolitan Police, played a central role in the April 2002 coup. Given the huge thorn he was in Chavez`s side one would think that if Chavez truly controlled everything he would have been removed from power. Was he? Again, absolutely not. He served out the term he was elected to serve. He had his own mandate and was perfectly free to change his political allegiances as he saw fit.

So what we see is that Chavez most definitely does NOT control the National Assembly or many other branches of the government for that matter. In fact, the support that he enjoys from a bare majority of the members of the National Assembly is political support. They support him because they are politically aligned with him, not because they have to. In other words, Chavez "controls" the National Assembly in the same way that George Bush "controls" the U.S. congress. He has the support of most of its members because people who support him are the ones that won most of the elections. As all the polling for the last couple of years has shown Chavez enjoys the support of a large majority of the Venezuelan electorate. So politicians who have his backing generally win elections, those who oppose him generally lose. There is certainly nothing sinister or undemocratic about that. Its the way democracy is supposed to work.

Why do I bring all this up now? Simple. The entire Venezuelan National Assembly is up for election next Sunday, December 4th. So the opposition can gain control over the major part of Venezuela´s governent. If they win a majority in the Assembly they will actually control the most important parts of the government. For example, they would have complete control over the budget process and they could also gain control over the judiciary by virtue of controlling court appointments. Simply put, two weeks from now the Chavez administration could be completely stripped of its ability to do much of anything and the Bolivarian process would come to a screetching halt. And all the opposition has to do is, in the inmortal words of Al Davis is, "win baby, just win".

So given how high the stakes are you would think the opposition would be extremely excited about these elections. Venezuela should be bubbling over with election fever, right? Well, you probably would think that but you couldn´t be more wrong. Traveling around Caracas there is hardly any campeigning or electoral propaganda to be seen. There is some, mainly by pro-Chavez candidates, but not much. Here are a couple of the banners and posters for pro-Chavez candidates that I ran accross:

And they are having a big rally in the heavily populated section of Caracas called El Valle tonight. When I enquired about how little campeigning there is by pro-Chavez candidates I was told it probably results from there confidence (overconfidence ?) in winning.

Then, in an effort to be fair, I tried to see what the opposition was doing. While I was in Altamira I passed through one of the opposition`s main rallying locations, la Plaza Francia. But there was absolutely no political activity in sight, anywhere. None. No people, no posters, nothing. In fact the closest thing to something polical I saw was this rather bizarre traveling advertisement for soap:

So while the opposition is potentially one week away from being able to turn Chavez`s government upside down they are doing next to nothing. Why? Probably because they can read the polls. And the polls have consistently said that Chavez is looked upon favorably by most Venezuelans and his political party, the MVR, is far and away the largest political force in the country. Knowing this, it is assumed that in all likelyhood pro-Chavez candidates will win a large majority. How hard to you want to campeign if you are almost certain to lose anyways?

So what we have in Venezuela is a healthy and normal democracy. There are no "dictators" or "autocrats" here, only a highly popular president who consistently wins elections and whose coattails help elect others aligned with him. The despondence of the opposition comes not from living in a respressive society - it comes from not having a program that resonates with average Venezuelans and therefore not being able to win elections. They simply can´t compete in the market place of ideas - which is really what a democracy is. It is long past time they recognize this and quite projecting their own failings on Venezuela`s democratic political system which is, in fact, working just fine.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

What can we expect from war criminals 

The other day one of the readers here, Slave Revolt, mentioned that it had come out that the U.S. and Britian considered bomging the TV station Al-Jazeera. Sure enough this has since been confirmed. Today some people held a protest against this outrage in front of Al-Jazeera's headquarters. I particulary liked the sign "Don't bomb the messenger".

Think this is just an outlandish story and the United States would never do such a thing? If you think that way your memory is too short. The U.S. blew up the Serbian TV station when they were bombing that country into submission in 1998.

Here are a couple key quotes from that outrage:

Tony Blair, in Washington for Nato's 50th anniversary summit, insisted that bombing television stations was 'entirely justified' since they were part of the 'apparatus of dictatorship and power of Milosevic'. He added: 'The responsibility for every single part of this action lies with the man who has engaged in this policy of ethnic cleansing and must be stopped.'

At a heated press briefing at the Ministry of Defence, Clare Short, the international development secretary, said: 'This is a war, this is a serious conflict, untold horrors are being done. The propaganda machine is prolonging the war and it's a legitimate target.'

Admiral Sir Ian Garnett, chief of joint operations at the ministry of defence, said Mr Milosevic's 'propaganda machine consists of transmitters but also the studios from which the information is transmitted. That makes it part of the overall military structure. Both elements have to be attacked.'

Nato's military spokesman, Air Commodore David Wilby, two weeks ago described RTS, the Serbian state broadcasting station, as a 'legitimate target which filled the airways with hate and with lies over the years'. However, Jamie Shea, the Nato council spokesman, denied that RTS was a target, distinguishing between transmitters 'integrated into [military] command and control commmunications' and normal broadcasting facilities.

This is so far over the top its hard to know where to begin. Let me just use one example though to illustrate its absurdity. Most of the TV stations in the metro New York area broadcast from the top of the World Trade Center. So I guess it was legitimate for the World Trade Center to be blown up on the grounds it was broadcasting lies and inciting hatred and therefore a legitimate military target. I'm sure the U.S. leadership would love that arguement.

There really is no restraining the criminality of the leadership of the United States and Great Britian. And I would like for someone to come and explain how all those journalists killed in Iraq by U.S. forces were accidents. "We don't target journalists" will be the U.S. response. As the above shows anyone who believes that lie is just plain ignorant of recent history.

There is only one appropriate response to this criminality and that is the one adopted by the insurgents in Iraq - fight back and fight back hard.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Have your say 

The other day I noticed a moderated forum that was set up on Venezuela. Based on the name, Chavistas.org, and the posts it seems to be pro-Chavez. I haven't signed up for it yet myself but hopefully I will soon. Its always welcome to have a new place to sound off and discuss the important events taking place in Venezuela.

Anyways, you can find it here.


The environment gets a little better and a little worse 

Venezuela historically has had significant environmental problems. From contaminated air and water to rubbish seemingly everwhere Venezuela has never been known as “green” country. And while it would be nice to be able to say the Chavez administration is improving things the truth is their record is a mixed one. Today gave more evidence of that.

On the positive side of the ledger we have the changes taking place in PDVSA.Despite all the non-sense about PDVSA being so well run under the previous management it was always an environmental disaster. Incapable of properly producing unleaded gasoline Venezuela has suffered from horrendous auto emissions. And so inept was the old PDVSA that Venezuelan gasoline was actually banned from the United States by the E.P.A. in the mid 90’s. Worse still, to make way for oil tankers Lake Maracaibo was connected to the ocean thereby turning it into a saline wasteland, pipelines blew up with some regularity, incinerating anyone unfortunate enough to be near it (and an act of complete stupidity pipelines were built right along side major roadways), and oil spills, such as the one that ruined the coral reefs off of one of Venezuela’s best beaches, Chichiriviche, were a frequent occurance .

Fortunately, the Chavez administration is at least getting PDVSA turned around. For example, leaded gasoline was finally phased out this year. This is a significant accomplishment that the “meritocracy” that formerly ran PDVSA never seemed capable of. And taking things further today Venezuela announced it would spend $70 million to set up a petrochemical factory to make a gasoline additive called isooctane. This is a cleaner alternative to other additives that create significant amounts of pollution. This additive will not only be used in the U.S. market which is starting to require it but also in the domestic Venezuelan market to further improve the quality of its gasoline and improve the environment. Good news, to be sure.

Unfortunately, what the right hand gives the left hand gives away. Venezuela has a huge problem with garbage that is not removed and properly disposed of. Caracas being a large city, this is a particularly acute problem there. Yet nothing seems to solve it – not people complaining for years, not Chavez giving the mayor a tongue lashing, nor even paying people to collect there own litter. Presently parts of western Caracas have gone for four days with out garbage collection. You can imagine how unpleasent that is and the pictures below should serve to give some idea of how out of hand the problem is.

The only governmental response seems to be to point fingers and blame others. Some even blamed the recent heavy rains as if a problem that has gone on for years could be blamed on the events of the past few days or weeks.

Right now the government seems at a loss for what to do. But it better not stay that way for long. A situation as intolerable as this cannot be allowed to go on. And it sure is sad to see the good workd being done by half of the government being undone by the other half.


Monday, November 21, 2005

Who's lying? 

Today the opposition held a "March against lies." It sure is rather curious that the opposition would hold a march against lies when their movement is largely based on lies - the lie that Chavez is a dictator, that there was no coup in April 2002, that the opposition speaks for "the people" when every election has shown otherwise, that poverty has increased when it reality it has decreased, and on and on. These lies are indespensible to the opposition for without them their whole intellectual house of cards would collapse. So they can say whatever they want to in their marches but there is absolutely no chance of the Venezuelan opposition becoming known for its veracity.

But while were on the subject of lies - remember that lie about Venezuelan oil production that the opposition (and some opposition bloggers) got caught in recently? You know, the one where PDVSA is going down the tubes and the country is only producing 2.6 million barrels a day? That lie was busted when the PDVSA audited financial statements came out and showed the government was producing over 3 million barrels per day.

Well, yesterday yet more confirmation of the government numbers came out - buried deep in the pages of El Univeral. It turns out that the GNP numbers that were just released by the Central bank confirm that Venezuela is producing over 3 million barrels.

How? Simple. In the GNP calculation for the period of July to September they counted the $11.2 billion in export revenues from PDVSA. At a price an average price of $52.27 barrel this means PDVSA exports were 2.3 million barrels per day. Then they counted the $2.58 billion earned by exports from private oil firms (ie from the Orinoco belt). Again with a price of $52.27 per barrel that means their exports averaged 550,000 barrels per day. Adding the 2,300,000 and 550,000 together gives 2,850,000 barrels of oil exported from Venezuela per day.

Now that alone blows the opposition numbers of 2.6 million barrels per day out the water. After all, how could they export 2.85 million barrels if they are only producing 2.6 million barrels? Moreover, when you add the more than 400,000 barrels per day that are used for domestic consumption and NOT exported you see that Venezuelan production is over 3.2 million barrels per day - precisely as the government has insisted all along!!!

No wonder the likes of Gustavo Coronel and the opposition bloggers don't want to discuss this. Audited financial statements and now the Central Bank numbers have both clearly demonstrated how wrong those liars were. Of course, they could own up to their mistakes. But that would require integrity, something they clearly don't have. So instead they just run away and hide.


Good journalists recognize good journalism when they see it 

TeleSur, the news channel focusing on Latin America that was recently started by Venezuela, Argentina, and Cuba has now been on the air a few months. Just recently it began broadcasting live newscasts.

The U.S. government and anti-Chavez Venezuelan's condemned the new network before it even got off the ground as a crude pro-Chavez propaganda tool. The people running TeleSur insisted it would be editorially independent and would simply distinguish itself by focusing on Latin America, and in particular Latin America's poor.

So who was right? A reporter for the Christian Science Monitor spent a couple weeks monitoring TeleSur and he found it to be anything but propagandistic:

The news network founded by Venezuela's Hugo Chávez isn't yet the propaganda tool some expected.

By Vinod Sreeharsha | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

CARACAS, VENEZUELA - In Telesur's first month of live broadcasting, the fledgling pan-Latin American television network - founded by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and majority owned by Venezuela - is seeking to demonstrate its professionalism and impartiality.

But last week the channel aired short video clips from closed-door meetings of regional leaders at the Summit of the Americas in Argentina this month. The video was recorded under an agreement that it were meant for private use only.

But the clips were aired on Telesur just days after Mr. Chávez said they would be. These clips bolster critics who claim the network is and will be a propaganda tool for Chávez.

Aram Aharonian, Telesur's General Manager, insists that the decision to air such footage was based on the value of the information, "made solely by Telesur, independent of the government." Some observers argue that any network given this secret video would have made the same choice.

Telesur has long been feared by the US government as pure Chávez propaganda. Before a single broadcast had aired, the House of Representatives passed legislation to transmit a counter, pro-US television channel into Venezuela, similar to Radio and TV Marti in Cuba.

Despite such fears, based on analysis of the first two weeks of live news programming and a week spent in its studios, Telesur is clearly run by professional journalists striving to provide balanced and independent coverage of Latin America to people who often learn about themselves from US or European-based media. Indeed, there are fewer questions about Telesur's ulterior motives than its ability to attract viewers in a region traditionally distrustful of state-run institutions.

An American journalist, who has written for leading US newspapers, and now works for Telesur, describes his colleagues as "absolutely serious journalists." He adds that, "I have not seen anything indicating that there is any element of propaganda here."

In an early test of ethics, a heated discussion broke out in a staff meeting over whether the same newscast that airs a story about Venezuela's state-run oil firm PDVSA, could also broadcast the firm's public service announcements. Producer Isabel Rui, quickly decided that, "It's one or the other, folks."

In Telesur's debut nightly newscast, it could have taken a pro-Chávez line on several events - but didn't. While the official Venezuelan state channel VTV led with a story on the dubious claim that in less than two years Venezuela's literacy rate has reached nearly 100 percent thanks to programs Chávez has implemented, Telesur did not air a single story about Chávez's social programs.

The same Oct. 31 newscast also treated President Bush's new Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito with kid gloves. Telesur's Washington correspondent gushed that Alito was "very experienced as a judge," and "very well educated" without voicing any criticism. The US press described Alito as "more conservative than Scalia," but Telesur resisted the opportunity to pounce on Mr. Bush's nomination, merely saying the choice would be controversial.

Telesur's focus so far has neither been the US nor Venezuela but Latin America. It has already aired a seven-part series on under-reported Haiti, for instance. In one story, a Haitian says that, "the US gives us much help and is a great neighbor." Chávez has long criticized US meddling in Haiti.

The network's first morning newscast covered the election crises in Peru and Bolivia. In the editors' meeting afterwards, a post-mortem took place. The Bolivia story had primarily focused on a speech by leftist indigenous leader, and presidential frontrunner Evo Morales. Producer Marcos Salgado said, "We have to compensate. Let's get footage from the candidate on the right."

At the meeting, someone proposed a new Chávez story separate from the Summit, to which another producer responded "enough Chávez."

To be sure, Chávez sympathizers run Telsur. Andres Izarra, the channel's president, briefly served as Chávez's minister of communications. Yet Mr. Izarra and Mr. Aharonian, are veteran journalists. Izarra previously worked at CNN and then RCTV, one of the private Venezuelan networks. Aharonian's been a journalist for more than 30 years, including briefly heading United Press International in Venezuela.

But the biggest question facing Telesur now is not about pro-Chávez propaganda, but whether it can attract viewers in the region.

Telesur says that cable networks in Argentina have now picked it up, though Osvaldo Bazan, a leading Argentine journalist who writes about television for the newsweekly Veintitres, says that Argentines still perceive it as state television, and that they remain skeptical of state-run institutions due to their experience with military dictatorships and rampant government corruption. Mr. Bazan adds that, "Chávez is certainly loved here and Bush hated, but nobody is interested in Telesur."

In Brazil, Alberto Dines, with the Observatoria da Imprensa, a Brazilian media watchdog, says that Brazilians "don't believe" state media, and adds that, "I don't see any chance for Telesur."

Also, many Venezuelans still question just how independent Telesur can really be, being primarily government-owned. They cite the case of Venezuelan journalist Walter Martinez. A Chávez supporter and nine-time winner of this country's version of the Pulitzer Prize. His news program, Dossier, was the highest-rated on Venezuela's state run VTV. But after criticizing Chávez's government for corruption, his program was taken off the air in September.

It may not be easy then for Telesur's employees to keep their network from becoming a Chávez mouthpiece. But Telesur's lone yanqui says, "Journalists have a social responsibility to keep an eye on the rich and powerful, whether it is Bush or Chávez."


More details on the good deed 

Venezuelanalisis picked up on an excellent article from the Boston Globe on the discounted oil that Venezuela is offering poor U.S. communities. Here are the first couple of paragraphs:

A subsidiary of the Venezuelan national oil company will ship 12 million gallons of discounted home-heating oil to local charities and 45,000 low-income families in Massachusetts next month under a deal arranged by US Representative William D. Delahunt, a local nonprofit energy corporation, and Venezuela's president, White House critic Hugo Chávez.

The approximately $9 million deal will bring nine million gallons of oil to families and three million gallons to institutions that serve the poor, such as homeless shelters, said officials from Citizens Energy Corp., which is signing the contract. Families would pay about $276 for a 200-gallon shipment, a savings of about $184 and enough to last about three weeks.

Read the rest here. Once again Chavez comes through. $184 per family is certainly a very real savings. I wonder how long it will be before some Americans start asking why it takes a foriegn government to do something the U.S. government itself should be doing.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Why SUMATE is needed more in the U.S. than Venezuela 

What a coincidence, I was going to do a post involving Maria Corina Machado today but the New York Times beet me to the punch doing a profile of her. I could take the time talk about who she is and what she does but Juan Forero did it for me and seeing as he writes much better than I do let me just rip off some of his article:

SHE'S the Venezuelan government's most detested adversary, a young woman with a quick wit and machine-gun-fast delivery who often appears in Washington or Madrid to denounce what she calls the erosion of democracy under President Hugo Chávez.

In a highly polarized country, María Corina Machado has emerged as perhaps the most divisive figure after Mr. Chávez, a woman who is either beloved or reviled.

Ms. Machado, 38, attractive and a fluent English speaker, is lionized by her allies in the opposition as a worldly sophisticate fighting for democracy. But she is demonized by the government, which characterizes her as a member of a corrupt elite that is doing the bidding of the much reviled Bush administration.

Ms. Machado does not hide her close relations with Washington, which has provided financial aid to Súmate, the anti-Chávez, election-monitoring organization she helps run. In May, she infuriated the government when she met with President Bush at the White House, and she further antagonized officials in September by announcing that Súmate had received a fresh infusion of $107,000 from Washington.

Ms. Machado casts her role as that of a watchdog uncovering the electoral shenanigans she says Mr. Chávez uses to consolidate his hold, a precarious job in Venezuela these days.

"You can push and push, but at some point they are going to get tired and say, 'It is time to get her off our backs,' " Ms. Machado said.

That time arrived for Ms. Machado in September 2004. In a case that Human Rights Watch says is riddled with violations of due process, the attorney general's office charged her and three other Súmate officials with treason and other crimes for having accepted American financing to mount a referendum last year asking voters whether they wished to remove Mr. Chávez from the presidency.

Accepting prosecution arguments that Súmate's work amounted to an effort to "destroy the nation's republican form," a Venezuelan judge ruled in July that the four should face trial.

The trial is set for Dec. 6, and a conviction could carry a 16-year prison term.

While one of the most visible public figures in Venezuela, Ms. Machado is sparing with details about her personal life, one of comfort and privilege.

She was the eldest of four girls growing up in a conservative, staunchly Catholic family. There was the elite Catholic girls' school in Caracas; the boarding school in Wellesley, Mass.; the trips to Europe; the occasional escapes from Venezuela's teeming capital to her family's airy mountain retreat.

"It was a childhood protected from contact with reality," she admits.

AT first, though, she followed in the footsteps of her father, Henrique Machado, studying engineering at Catholic University in Caracas. She married young and in 1990 began her career working to improve quality controls in an auto plant in Valencia.

Three years later, she was back in Caracas, having decided to join her mother in running a home for 140 abandoned and troubled children.

Her life took a turn in 2001. That was the year her marriage broke up, but also year three of Mr. Chávez's rule, and Ms. Machado and her friends were growing worried.

She now says it was concern over "tensions" that prompted them to form Súmate, with the purpose of mounting the referendum on Mr. Chávez. "The idea was not, how do we get rid of this government," Ms. Machado said. "The idea was how do we resolve the profound social differences."

That account, of Súmate as an organization independent of other groups intent on removing Mr. Chávez from office, does not squarely line up with history. Súmate, in fact, earned the government's undying enmity when it loudly questioned the results of the August 2004 referendum, even though international observers said Mr. Chávez had won handily.

The Chávez camp also took a dim view of the fact that Ms. Machado was in the Miraflores Palace on the day in April 2002 when Pedro Carmona, an opposition businessman, installed an interim government just hours after Mr. Chávez was overthrown in a coup.

With a sigh, Ms. Machado says that she and her mother were in the palace that day only to visit Mr. Carmona's wife, a family friend. "I have a clear conscience," she said. "There was no double meaning in what happened."


She said she understood why so many Venezuelans support the populist government, which has showered the poor with social programs underwritten by a flood of oil money. "We have to recognize the positive things that have been done," she said.

Still, she has not stopped criticizing the president, who she charges is increasingly intolerant. "The intimidation has given us more reasons to keep working," she said. "Our organization seeks to preserve citizens' rights, and the way to do that is by exercising those rights."

Certainly a fairly balanced and interesting article. The one thing that made me gag was that she went to the Presidential Palace in the middle of a coup to visit a friend?!?! Yeah, sure, any normal, rational person would have done the same thing – NOT.

In any event Ms. Machado herself was not supposed to be what this post was about. Rather I wanted to discuss some of the comments she made on SUMATE’s website regarding the upcoming legislative elections. Here is what was published by SUMATE:

Maria Corina Machado sent a message to the international observers: “observers, please don’t ask the Venezuelan people to accept conditions that you wouldn’t accept in your countries”.

She asked them: “Would you accept going to vote in your countries with an Electoral Council that was clearly controlled by the government, illegally named, and that systematically violates the laws of your country? Would you accept elections without all votes being counted and with a registry of voters that has increased by more than 20% in the past year and where more than 30% of the citizens have had their voting centers changed and the voting list is not handed over to the parties so that it can be audited? Would you accept to vote which doesn’t guarantee the secrecy of the vote and that permits the government to instantly know who has voted and who hasn’t?"

Ms. Machado makes a very good, and completely appropriate, point here. No one, and certainly not international observers, should expect Venezuelan’s to vote under conditions they wouldn’t accept in their own country. With that in mind lets look at how elections are carried out elsewhere and how they stack up against the Venezuelan system. Now, I can’t speak to what European Union observers deal with in their own countries as I don’t know anything about their electoral systems. However, there are also observers from the Organization of American States and I certainly can speak to how elections are carried out in one of its member states – the United States. So lets see how voting systems in the U.S. compare to those in Venezuela:

First, Machado asks if others would accept an electoral council controlled by the government. Well, Ms. Machado, that would actually be a step up by U.S. standards. In the U.S. its not just that partisan elected officials control the voting system. Katherine Harris of Florida and James Blackwell of Ohio were both die hard Republican elected officials. Its actually worse. The people who oversee the voting are often times the same people directly involved in running one of the campaigns. For example, the head of the Ohio electoral commission in 2004 was actually the Co-Chair of the Ohio Re-Elect Bush campaign. So the voting rules were established and the voting was carried out by the leader of one of the campaigns. And we all know who eked out a victory in Ohio. So Ms. Machado, the level of partisanship among Venezuelan electoral officials isn’t even close to being on the level as in the U.S. And as for laws being violated, the election of the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2000 was clearly unconstitutional so lets not even go there.

Next she poses the question of accepting that not all the votes are counted. Surely no-one should accept elections where not all votes are counted. Yet people in the U.S. do precisely that. In the last Presidential election there were instances of thousands of votes just disappearing into thin air Even more bizarrely the computers sometimes just gave Bush thousands of extra votes.

But what I think Ms. Machado is really getting at hear is that their needs to be some sort of auditing system that allows the vote totals to be verified. Venezuelan voting machines print out paper ballots which can then be counted and compared to the actual vote totals in an audit to ensure their accuracy. This is how the Carter Center and the O.A.S. were able to verify that there was no fraud in the Recall Referendum last year. In the U.S. no such system exists. Most computer voting machines have no paper trail and are therefore a complete black box that can perform any kind of manipulation of the votes without anyone being able to detect it. Further, in the U.S. there is almost never any type of audit carried out, and certainly never one by international observers. In fact one of the main recommendations of the Commission on Federal Election Reform (CFER), chaired by Jimmy Carter and James Baker, was that the U.S. use machines that print paper reciepts and that at least 1% of these ballots be compared to the computer tallies. Once again, Venezuela’s system, whatever its shortcoming, clearly bests the system used in the United States and in fact serves as a model for reform of the U.S. electoral system.

Next Ms. Machado talks about potential problems with Venezuela’s voter registry. It is odd that Ms. Machado would insinuate this as audits carried out by her very own organization, SUMATE, on the voter rolls before the recall referendum showed there were very few errors in it – less than 1% in fact.

Plus voting rolls are clearly manipulated in the U.S. For example, the state of Florida, which handed Bush his first victory, incorrectly purged thousands of African-American voters (who tend to vote Democratic) from the rolls. That alone was sufficient to hand the election to Bush. Worse still, according to the Carter-Baker report, (page 12) there are 140,000 registered to vote in other states who are also registered to vote in Florida! Hence these people can vote more than once. Nationwide it is estimated there are millions of such duplicate registrations.

Worse still, according to the Carter-Baker report (p. 22) only two states in the U.S., North Carolina and Oregon, audit their voter rolls leaving most states with suspect voting rolls. Some are clearly bogus such as that of Alaska which has more registered voters than it has voting aged adults. So once again, at the very least, Venezuela is in no worse shape (and probably a good deal better) than “the worlds greatest democracy”

Lastly, Ms. Machado worries about the secrecy of the vote somehow being compromised. This has to do with the voting list books and the voting machines both being automated so that they could in theory be compared to determine how people voted by matching the sequence of people being checked into the voting center and the sequence of votes being cast. This is a moot issue that has already been resolved in that the Venezuelan electoral authorities have decided not to use the automated voting books.

In summary what do we see here? What we see that whatever shortcomings the Venezuelan electoral system has it is at least the equal, and in many cases superior, to the voting systems used in the United States. Of course, one could say that the people in the U.S. who run the elections are honest and are more trustworthy than their Venezuelan counterparts. But that is just an article of faith, nothing more. Americans don’t know that their votes are counted accurately, they just assume they are.

Venezuelans don’t have to make any such assumptions. Their electoral process can be, and is, audited. And their electoral council actively seeks out outside monitors who can verify the accuracy of their vote count. In short they have an electoral system that people in the United States can only wish they had. Maria Corina Machado and her fellow Venezuelans can cast their ballots safe in the knowledge that their voting system is indeed very good by international standards.


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