For Immediate Release: April 15, 2013
Contact: Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460
Washington, D.C .- The Obama administration should recognize the presidential election results in Venezuela, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. Venezuela’s electoral authority, the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) reported early results showing that Nicolas Maduro had won by a margin of 1.6 percentage points over Henrique Capriles (50.7 to 49.1 percent), or about 275,000 votes.
“The Obama administration should not play politics with this one,” said Weisbrot. “As in most elections or plebiscites in Venezuela since 2004, there are elements of the opposition that do not want to accept the choice of the voters. The Obama administration should not encourage them.”
Weisbrot noted that the Obama administration has been hostile to the Chávez government through the last months of Chávez’ life, and even after his death, when it issued an unfriendly statement that did not even offer condolences.
Although the election was relatively close, Venezuela’s voting system is very secure, and 54.3 percent of the machines are subject to a random paper ballot audit by the National Electoral Council (on which the opposition is represented). Voters make their choice on a touch screen and a paper receipt is printed, which the voter then examines and places in a ballot box. Thus, there are two records for every vote. To manipulate the vote, one would have to fix the machines, and then go back and stuff the ballot boxes to match the electronic manipulation – something that would be extremely difficult if not impossible.
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter last year called Venezuela’s electoral system “the best in the world,” and ahead of today’s elections former president of Guatemala Álvaro Colom – who monitored the elections – stated that the vote was “secure” and could easily be verified.
“Unlike in the United States, where we really don’t know who won when the vote is close, in Venezuela it can be verified,” said Weisbrot.
150 electoral monitors from around the world monitored Venezuela’s elections today, visiting voting centers around the country and also observing counting and verification procedures. They include delegations from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Carter Center and the Unión Interamericana de Organismos Electorales.
By contrast, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Roberta Jacobson told Spanish newspaper El País last month that “It will be a little difficult” for Venezuela to have “clean and transparent” elections.
Capriles has called for an audit of 100 percent of the votes, and Maduro said he is open to the idea. But Weisbrot noted that even with a random sample of 54 percent, there would be no doubt about the outcome.
Weisbrot noted that Maduro’s win was most likely attributable in large part to the increase in living standards during the Chávez presidency, and support for the government’s misiones, or social programs. Since the Chávez government got control over the national oil industry, poverty was reduced by about half and extreme poverty by 70 percent. Unemployment has fallen from 14.5 to 8 percent, and income inequality has dropped sharply. Add to that the enormous support for the misiones that provide free health care and expanded access to education, and it is not surprising that a majority of Venezuelans would vote for continuity.