“Venezuela to audit votes without opposition conditions” reads the headline of a BBC article published over the weekend. According to the piece, Venezuela’s electoral authority “will not carry out the full recount demanded by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.” A USA Today article from last Thursday notes that “Capriles said the opposition would not participate in the audit because the National Electoral Council did not meet its demand for an examination of registers containing voters' signatures and fingerprints.” An Associated Press headline – “Government formally rejects top-to-bottom Venezuela vote audit, heightening tensions” – suggests that the Electoral Council’s rejection of the opposition’s demands is stoking the flames of political conflict in the country.
As is often the case in the media’s coverage of Venezuela, a crucial piece of context is missing from these and other articles on the recent decisions of the National Electoral Council (known by its Spanish initials as CNE). Faithful readers of our blog will remember that Henrique Capriles, after the CNE announced that he’d lost the elections by a narrow margin of around 270,000 votes (narrowed down to 224,000 votes following the final count of votes cast abroad), refused to accept the results and immediately called for a recount, though other opposition spokespeople called instead for a “complete audit” of the voting machine receipts. After first calling on his supporters to take to the streets, leading to violent clashes in which over half a dozen people were reportedly killed, Capriles finally formally filed a set of demands to the CNE. Subsequently, on April 18th, the CNE agreed to audit the remaining 46% of boxes of voting machine receipts that had not yet been verified (54% of the boxes had been previously verified in the presence of witnesses from both parties).
What AP, USA Today, BBC and others fail to mention in their most recent articles is that Capriles accepted the CNE’s April 18th decision to proceed with the audit of the remaining voting receipt boxes, and said that the opposition would participate in the process. According to AFP and other sources, Capriles said that the opposition campaign “accepts what the CNE (…) has announced to the country. We will be there in the audit. We consider that the problems are in these 12,000 boxes (that will finally be opened in this audit). We will undoubtedly be able to show the country the truth.”
Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles is currently “boycotting” a second audit of the voting results for the April 14 presidential election, which the National Electoral Council has agreed to undertake. Capriles claims that the election was stolen through fraud.
In a CEPR press release we note that it is practically impossible to have obtained the results of the audit that took place after the polls closed on April 14, if the election were actually stolen through fraud.
When the polls closed, a random sample of 53 percent[i] of all the machines (20,825 out of 39,303) was chosen, and a manual tally was made of the paper receipts. This “hot audit” was done on site, in the presence of the observers from both campaigns, as well as witnesses from the community. There were no reports from witnesses or election officials on site of discrepancies between the machine totals and the hand count.
The following is a calculation of the probability of auditing 20,825 machines and finding zero errors when there are actually 50 among all 39,303 (this means that there are 50 machines with errors among the ones that were not audited). The assumption here is that there would have to be at least 50 bad machines -- i.e. where the machine count did not match the paper ballot – in order to reverse a margin of 272,000 votes.
This assumption is of course understating the number of bad machines that would be necessary to reverse the result. The average machine has only about 360 votes, and the maximum was about 564. And here we are assuming the election is stolen by moving about 2700 votes per machine from Capriles to Maduro, on 50 machines. If more machines were bad, then the probability below gets even (vastly) smaller. So the calculation below is actually a very high estimate of the probability of obtaining the April 14 audit results, if the election were stolen.
the U.S. executive branch made the disappointing and unfortunate decision to support Argentina at the lower-court level, on the unsubstantiated grounds that holding Argentina accountable would somehow undermine the vague U.S. foreign-policy goal of promoting the orderly restructuring of defaulted sovereign debt.
Raben concludes that, “It would be downright dangerous for the Department of Justice to maintain its support for Argentina after its disgraceful displays of disrespect for the U.S. judicial system.”Raben would have you believe that his conclusion and expertise in the matter is simply based on his previous experience:
As a former assistant attorney general, I am familiar with the struggles and the balancing involved in weighing various legal and policy questions and deciding whether to ask the Supreme Court to review a case.
But readers of the Huffington Post might be interested in something else not mentioned in Raben’s article: that his lobbying firm, The Raben Group, has been paid over $2.1 million by a group representing the same vulture funds that are suing Argentina, according to lobbying disclosure documents. In fact, the American Task Force Argentina (ATFA), of which Raben is the Executive Director, has spent nearly $4 million lobbying the White House, Treasury Department and U.S. Congress. Nowhere in the article does Raben disclose this relationship. His 382 word Huffington Post bio notes his past working for Barney Frank, his time as Assistant Attorney General and his current position “on the boards of the American Constitution Society and Alliance for Justice,” yet never mentions his management position at ATFA or even the existence of his lobbying firm.
A federal district court has ruled that the Obama administration must declassify records with the names of individuals trained at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas or SOA.
Famously known as the “School of Assassins,” the school trained members of foreign armed forces who later went on to participate in some of the bloodiest and most repressive regimes in contemporary Latin America. During El Salvador’s civil war, the most heinous violations of human rights were committed by SOA graduates, who organized death squads and planned the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero (1980) and participated in the El Mozote Massacre (1980), where more than 800 civilians were murdered. SOA graduates made up the majority of the Chilean officers who overthrew Allende in favor of Pinochet in Chile. And in Argentina, General Roberto Viola was among the many SOA graduates that participated in the dirty war—he was convicted of murder, kidnapping and torture in 1985.
Though SOA changed its name and instituted reforms in 2001, its graduates have continued to be involved in anti-democratic activity and egregious human rights abuses. Case in point: Honduras. Four of the six generals linked to the coup against democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya were trained at the WHINSEC in recent years, including top General Romeo Vásquez. SOA graduates have been the subject of CEPR’s ongoing coverage of violence and impunity in Honduras; we wrote about soldiers that shot and killed a 15-year-old boy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, which included among their number at least one soldier trained at the WHINSEC.
Thanks in large parts to the grassroots campaign against the school organized by SOA Watch, a number of Latin American countries have stopped sending troops to WHINSEC. The first country to pull out was Venezuela in 2004, followed by Argentina and Uruguay in 2006. Other countries that stopped sending troops include Bolivia, Ecuador and most recently Nicaragua. However, Honduras and other Central American countries – including Costa Rica – continue to send police and military personnel to the school. The Bayonet reports that for the “Cadet Leadership Development Course” that began October of 2012, there were 64 Honduran Army cadets in attendance, representing the largest share from a single country. One cadet was quoted saying that the course was “useful in the future during joint operations.” As readers of the Americas Blog are aware, a joint U.S./Honduras counternarcotics operation last May resulted in the killing of four indigenous villagers with no apparent ties to drug trafficking.
5:05 PM EDT: International Representation at Maduro's Inauguration
Nicolás Maduro has just been sworn in as president of Venezuela. Despite the refusal of the United States and Venezuelan opposition leader to accept the legitimacy of the election results, an overwhelming amount of the region's leadership showed up or was represented at Maduro's inauguration today.
Reports say that a total of 61 diplomatic delegations, headed by presidents, prime ministers and vice presidents, among others were present at the ceremony. At least 17 presidents are reported to have attended.
Delegations from Iran, including President Ahmadinejad, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East were present.
The following presidents attended:
Dilma Rousseff (Brazil) Juan Manuel Santos (Colombia) Raúl Castro (Cuba) José Mujica (Uruguay) Cristina Kirchner (Argentina) Evo Morales (Bolivia) Ollanta Humala (Peru) Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua) Porfirio Lobo (Honduras) Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves (San Vicente and the Grenadines) Prime Minister Keith Mitchell (Grenada)
Prime Ministers from Saint Lucia, Antigua, Barbados, Saint Kitts and Nevis also attended.
2:55 PM EDT: William Hague Recognizes New President
This message was issued by the Secretary of State for the United Kingdom:
On the occasion of the inauguration of Nicolas Maduro as President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the UK Government looks forward to working with the Government and people of Venezuela to strengthen our relationship and deepen cooperation in areas of mutual interest.
Opposition protests turned deadly yesterday, with at least seven people having been reported killed and over 61 others injured as opposition groups reportedly burned the homes of PSUV leaders, community hospitals, and mercales (subsidized grocery stores), attacked Cuban doctors, attacked state and community media stations, and threatened CNE president Tibisay Lucena and other officials. Violence is likely to continue today, as both Capriles and Maduro have called for their supporters to demonstrate in the streets. Maduro and other senior government officials have condemned the acts and have warned that the opposition is attempting a coup d’etat. PSUV legislators have suggested they may pursue legal action against Capriles for promoting instability.
The campaign of violent protest, in conjunction with opposition candidate Henrique Capriles’ refusal to recognize the election results, represents the first major extra-legal destabilization attempt by Venezuela’s opposition since the failed coup in 2002 and oil strike in 2003. It is also significant in that the U.S. is backing Capriles’ position, thereby helping to provoke conflict in Venezuela – even though most Latin American nations and many other governments around the world have congratulated Maduro on his victory and called for the results to be respected.
The opposition strategy is predictably divisive, however. Factions within Venezuela’s opposition have long opposed extra-legal and especially violent methods of attempting to force change. Some in the opposition have also hinted that Capriles’ cries of “fraud” are not credible. Opposition-aligned CNE rector Vicente Diaz has said that while he supports a full audit of the votes, he has no doubt in that the results given by the CNE are correct. Diaz made comments to this effect on opposition station Globovision yesterday; the TV hosts then quickly concluded the interview.
The White House said today that a 100 percent audit of the votes in Venezuela was “an important, prudent and necessary step.”
Now it is no surprise that the White House would be on the side of the opposition to the Chavistas, which has been the U.S. position even before the military coup that Washington supported in 2002.
The really ominous thing here is that for years the Obama administration has been smart enough not to overtly take sides in an internal struggle within Venezuela. That’s because the Obama team knows that this only helps discredit the opposition.
They know very well that their call for a 100 percent audit will, if it has any influence, make it less likely that the Venezuelan government would support such an audit. This statement will just add fuel to the fire of those who say that the normal election rules, which mandate an audit of 54 percent of the machines (matching the paper ballots), should be respected; and that it would be a violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty to give in to external pressure.
So why did the White House make this statement, which is also sure to greatly annoy the new government of Venezuela? The most obvious answer, unfortunately, is that they want to promote conflict within the country. That is not a good sign. In previous Venezuelan presidential elections, since the recall referendum of 2004, both Republican and Democratic administrations did not necessarily want conflict because these elections were very close to the U.S. national elections, and it is a general rule to avoid risks that might raise the price of oil before an election, and so they recognized the results. It would be a very bad turn indeed if they have changed their policy.
If the White House merely wanted to support a 100 percent audit, it could do so privately, even to both sides (the NYT reported today that President Maduro reached out to the Obama administration through Bill Richardson, looking to improve relations). The White House statement today shows once again that it is definitely not interested in improving relations. Nor is it interested in a 100 percent audit of the vote.
10:12 PM EDT: The National Electoral Council (CNE) officially declared Nicolás Maduro president. Tibisay Lucena, CNE’s president, made the announcement with Maduro standing by her side.
According to unconfirmed reports, after being declared the winner, Maduro suggested that the equivalent of a coup is being prepared by those who will not respect Venezuelan constitutions. Jorge Rodríguez, the governing PSUV’s campaign manager, has been quoted saying that Capriles, by disregarding the CNE’s results, “is calling for a coup against Venezuelan democracy.”
Regarding a potential audit or re-count, Professor David Smilde reports that an audit of a majority of the votes is always conducted after an election:
Venezuela uses electronic voting machines that emit a paper ballot which the voter then deposits in a sealed box. In all elections 53-54% of these boxes are subject to citizen audit immediately after the election. Citizens who were selected to work a given election table and witness from political parties go through the votes one by one. That process takes a couple of hours.
Mark Weisbrot noted this in his response to initial reports of the White House’s statement in support of a full re-count, which he called "calculated" and "very suspicious." Since then, the State Department press office released the transcript for its daily press briefing, which demonstrated the U.S. government’s insistence on calling for a recount despite no indications that the CNE was considering such a move. Reporters present at the briefing attempted to get a firm answer from the State Department as to whether it was suggesting that the U.S. would not recognize the election unless all votes were re-counted, as only the opposition has demanded. Here is an excerpt from that exchange.
On June 15, 2012 a violent eviction of campesinos from occupied land in the Curuguaty region of Paraguay left 17 people dead, including 6 police officers. A week later, President Fernando Lugo was impeached without due process by an opposition controlled legislature, in what most of the rest of the region would regard as a coup. The reason given was Lugo’s poor handling of the situation in Curuguaty.
Next Sunday Paraguay will hold presidential elections, the first since the removal of Lugo. The election pits the Colorado party, which ruled Paraguay for 61 years until the 2008 election of Lugo, versus the Liberal party of current President (and Lugo’s Vice President) Federico Franco. Yet, 6 months after the clash in Curuguaty, and on the eve of presidential elections the Paraguayan government has done little to investigate what happened on June 15. As Natalia Viana of Publica, a nonprofit investigative journalism center in Brazil writes in this week’s edition of The Nation, “As Paraguay prepares to elect a new president on April 21, a growing number of citizens believe that answering the question of what happened in Curuguaty is the key to the truth behind Lugo's impeachment.” What’s more, Viana notes, is that “it is increasingly clear that his ouster was facilitated by entities in Paraguay who not only wanted him gone from the moment he was elected, but who enjoyed financial support from the United States.”
For some time about 70 landless people had been occupying 2,000 hectares of land. Viana notes that the “supposed owner of the land, Blas Riquelme, was a known land grabber and former president of Paraguay's conservative opposition party, the Partido Colorado (Colorado Party). But it was Riquelme who was occupying the land unlawfully; its rightful owner was the Instituto Nacional de Desarollo Rural y Tierra—the Paraguayan Land Institute—which tried to fight the eviction, only to be ignored by the local courts.” Paraguay has long been dominated by large landholders and is the fourth largest exporter of soy in the world; according to Viana two percent of the population controls over 75 percent of the land. Eventually, 14 of the landless Paraguayans were arrested. Then in December, Vidal Vega, who was a key witness in the investigation into the violent eviction, was assassinated.
Rory Carroll responds to my criticism of his NPR interview on Venezuela by calling it a “daft polemic.” But I would like for him to explain why inflation and currency depreciation, which do not measure living standards, are more important than poverty, extreme poverty, income inequality, income per person (measured in real, inflation-adjusted terms), health care, and employment. That would truly be a “daft polemic” – but that is what he is implying in his interview.
There are other things wrong with his interview that I didn’t have room for in 800 words. For example, he says that Chávez “basically rained petrodollars over the country, certainly in his first seven years in power.”
In fact, Chávez didn’t have petrodollars to rain on anyone for his first four years, because he did not have control over the national oil company (PDVSA). That was controlled by his opponents, who during those years had “a strategy of military overthrow,” according to opposition leader and journalist Teodoro Petkoff. So they used PDVSA to try and overthrow the government, including the military coup of 2002 and the devastating oil strike of 2002-2003.
Carroll’s portrayal of Chávez as “playing the race card” is also somewhat misleading. He gives the impression that this was an important part of his politics. But in fact it was not. It was more like in the United States under President Obama, where part of the right-wing opposition plays on racist sentiment against the president (only this was much more open and explicit in Venezuela, with opposition calling Chávez a “monkey” and “gorilla” ), but President Obama does not make a point out of being African-American. Chávez was proud of his Afro-Venezuelan and indigenous heritage, but he did not talk about it all that much. And like Obama, he didn’t use the bully pulpit to talk about racial discrimination, or try to mobilize voters along these lines. In Venezuela, even more than in the U.S., most people are not aware of the extent of racial discrimination. Of course this is even more true of the upper income groups. I remember being on a television show with a prominent Venezuelan-American, and he declared that there was no racial discrimination in Venezuela; this is a typical belief of upper-income Venezuelans. But in Venezuela, as in much of Latin America, while it is obvious to even a casual observer that there is a huge difference in skin color between upper-income and lower-income groups, there is not anywhere near the sense of “racial” identity (or even awareness of racial discrimination) as there is in the United States. So even if Chávez had wanted to mobilize people along racial lines, it would not have been an effective political strategy.
The Americas Blog seeks to present a more accurate perspective on economic and political developments in the Western Hemisphere than is often presented in the United States. It will provide information that is often ignored, buried, and sometimes misreported in the major U.S. media.