[Marxism] Forwarded from Michael Lebowitz (Venezuela report)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Nov 30 17:52:12 MST 2003

My days as an international observer in Venezuela-- my 7th note (I think) 
from the front. (Some of these have been picked up on 
www.venezuelanalysis.com, an invaluable source of information about what is 

After unofficially observing part of the first day's signature campaign to 
recall Hugo Chavez, on Saturday I joined about 50 others in a group of 
official observers. Our group (which includes Italian and Spanish 
politicians, European journalists, Latin American activists and 
legislators) is hustled into a bus and several vans, and we go off on a 
mystery trip to locations selected by the National Electoral Commission. 
After about an hour's ride, we were disgorged somewhere in the state of 
Vargas. As we approached the signature table (located in a barrio) , we 
were cheered and chanted at by about 20 Chavists (many redshirted) to the 
right of the tables. To the left of the tables, there were around 50 happy, 
singing people accompanied by loud music coming from a nearby bar. It was a 
bit like a party. Even though language-challenged,  it soon became clear to 
me from the 'yo no soy chavista' sung by this 2nd group that the 
positioning around the table was no accident. At the tables themselves, 
though, only two of the tables were occupied by someone who wanted to sign, 
and there was no queue. One of military men there to protect the process 
indicated that it was a bit busier there yesterday but not much more so. As 
we left, the crowd of anti-chavists dissipated.

At our second location in Vargas, we saw people come to the tables with a 
narrow strip of paper filled out on one side. After they signed the forms, 
the opposition person taking signatures signed the other side of the paper. 
This was a frequent pattern--- except that older people coming to the 
tables did not bring a slip. (One might speculate that this latter group 
did not need to bring proof to their employers that they had signed). There 
were 5 tables. It was quiet, with one or two signing when we arrived, but 
shortly after, a truck unloaded a number of people. I begin to wonder at 
this point whether the presence of 50 international observers is attracting 
opposition displays. In general, the atmosphere was not antagonistic-- much 
like between opposition scrutineers in an election at home. Certainly, 
people on both sides seem to be happy to see us.

At our third location in Vargas, there is no one signing up at all--- 
although the crowd arrives soon after. A bit like a mariachi band following 
us. We pass another site on the road-- one person signing, and we don't 
stop.  Our fourth stop has 5 places for signing up. 3 are occupied, with 
people getting white slips to prove they have signed. It is very quiet. I 
start to wonder--- how long before the singers arrive? In fact, we get away 
before they arrive. I feel a certain sense of loss. On the bus, a Haitian 
in the delegation notes that he has spoken with a member of Bandera Roja, 
the Marxist-Leninist group allied with the opposition. He notes that the 
explanation offered by the BR person is that they oppose Chavez because he 
is producing a war of class against class. So much for the Marxist-Leninists.

The 5th stop in Vargas is at Catia del Mar. I notice very careful work by 
the signature collector over whose shoulder I peer. She rejects wrong 
identification, makes people sign several times (crossing out errors). Very 
conscientious-- perhaps because of our presence. But, it does make me 
wonder why this is the first time I've seen crossed-out lines--- is this 
the only place that people are making errors? There are 4 tables here but 
not much activity. Our stay is short. No mariachi band here either. In 
fact, our stays are getting shorter. Is it because we're hungrier (or that 
the CNE organisers are)? It's 1:52 now and we've been going since 9 am.

After lunch, we go to centres in Caracas. Our first stop is in Sucre near 
St. Mary's University. This is definitely a different class of people here. 
People here are well-dressed and look at us very antagonistically. (Someone 
comments, who says you are international observers!) There's an orderly 
line-up of about 50 there, and I suspect fraud is unlikely here. A very 
short stay. We go from there to a closeby site near Metropolitan 
University. Also looks like a wealthy area, with very nice high-rises near 
these tables. Here we are told that they have no more papers, that their 
signature forms for the 4 days have been exhausted by 4:30 the 2nd day. 
They had received 368 papers (with 10 lines each). This is their message to 
the international observers--- the CNE has not given us enough! Is this 
possible? Has there been a miscalculation? The CNE gives out sheets equal 
to 66% of registered voters in each area (and does so at the rate of 25% 
per day--- although it is possible to request more in the early days if 
they are exhausted quickly). Is the problem that in a heavy opposition area 
more than 66% would come to sign against Chavez. Yes, possible-- the hatred 
is high here. In that case, the CNE rule is biased against heavily skewed 
areas. On the other hand, people can sign anywhere against Chavez! So, a 
shortage of papers can show up anywhere the opposition wants--- if it 
wants. Does this suggest what the opposition's strategy will be--- to claim 
on the last day that there are many people who could not sign? We note that 
those who come to this location to sign are being directed to other centres 
in the area.

At the next site in this area, one also characterised by high-rises (but 
not as nice on the outside), we find that they were given 340 sheets and 
have 140 left. (We are learning to focus on numbers and not on how well 
people sign their names.) I ask how many of the 200 were used the first day 
and how many used the 2nd day. I am told 95 the first day and 52 the 2nd 
(about the ratio of the two days that seems characteristic). Um, but that 
doesn't add up! What about the other sheets (53, for the 
numerically-challenged)? Oh, those are for the itinerant forms. Huh? Yes, 
those are the ones taken out on the street. Are these taken with 
representatives of the pro-government parties overseeing this? Yes, 
generally. Generally? What prevents fraud? (The basic justification for the 
itinerant sheets is the existence of the infirm at home and people in 
hospitals.) I have my translator find the representative of the government 
party there. Is this true that itinerant forms go out without any 
representative of the chavists? Yes, she answers--- she tries to go with as 
many as possible but can't always. But, she trusts them--- they've been so 
correct in everything else. At 6pm, a group of chavists on motorcycles 
arrives to check the forms before they are handed in. Too late, I think. 
This point about the itinerant sheets is critical as more and more reports 
have come in about people in hospitals pressured to sign.

Day 3 (Sunday) begins and we ride off to Miranda State (about 45 minutes). 
Nothing happening at the first site. A few people sitting around. Maybe 
it's too early (9:30) on a Sunday morning. No, we don't get out of the 
buses; we are told that they are closed. They finished their sheets. (Are 
more coming or did they use all 100%? Not clear.) We go to a 2nd location. 
There are 4 tables, all occupied, and a queue of 5 people. Here, the 
opposition people tell us that out of the 200 papers assigned for the 4 
days they used 90 sheets the first day and 69 the second. The chavist 
representative present indicates that there were 850 signatures the first 
day and 545 the second. It's hard to understand the discrepancies for the 
2nd day-- if there are no errors, 90 sheets would suggest a minimum of  891 
signatures; and 69 sheets, a minimum of 681 signatures. (Maybe there were 
lots of errors on Saturday.) We learn, too, that 36 sheets have been set 
aside for itinerant (9 per day). Hmm. 36 sheets out of 200--- 18%; quite a 
few sick people here.

We go off to a 3rd centre. There are 5 tables, 3 are occupied, and there is 
no queue. We learn that 67 papers were used the first day (642 signatures) 
and 38 (358) the second; this is out of a total of 238 assigned for the 4 
days.Here, we get to see the Sumate card in use. People are given the 
Sumate card (the one which says they have chose the peaceful route out of 
the crisis of Venezuela), their fingerprint is placed on the spot for 
stamping it and they are given a sticker ('YA firme') which they can put on 
the card. I see several younger people take the card and get it stamped. (I 
get my own card and YA firme sticker--- one for the scrapbook.) 
International observers are incensed by the use of these cards which are 
being demanded by employers, so we sign a denunciation for presentation to 
the CNE.

Our next centre (still in Miranda--- an opposition stronghold) is La 
Casona, an upscale pink-bricked shopping mall. Here they tell us 
immediately that their papers are finished. They had 200 for the 4 days. 
150 went the first day and the rest the 2nd day by 4:00.(There's a bit of a 
discrepancy because they tell us they used 1319 the first day and the rest 
(681), the second; again, the numbers don't quite add up--- how do you get 
681 signatures on 50 sheets of 10 lines each?) They say they are not 
entirely finished because they are waiting for 2 itinerants to return. They 
are complaining that the CNE made a mistake and didn't give them enough--- 
everyone here wants to sign and we only got 66%, we are told. Still, the 
fact that people can sign anywhere and that this is a shopping mall may 
explain why these are exhausted. Those who come here are being directed to 
other centres in the area (although the opposition coordinator says these 
other centres will soon be exhausted, too). Here as elsewhere in Miranda, 
it is very hard to find the chavist scrutineers--- they are vastly 
outnumbered. One itinerant returns while we are there, and there is a 
massive battle because the chavist who accompanied him has challenged 4 
names. How many signed up on sheets of itinerants here? 350 (and that is 
before counting the sheets of the two itinerants who had been out). So, at 
least 17.5% of the total. Must be an epidemic.

Next centre in Miranda is Plaza Bolivar. Again, the key questions become 
numbers. The opposition says they are supposed to get 198 sheets but they 
were only given 150, that they had used these up (not counting what the 
itinerants were doing) Further, they won't get any more. When it is pointed 
out that 150 was 3/4 of their total and that they would be entitled to 50 
more tomorrow, a furious argument breaks out between representatives, 
observers, etc. It's all happening very fast, and I look from face to face. 
I miss the subtitles. We leave shortly after it is established that they 
can get 50 more.

I decide to pass on the afternoon trip. The pattern is clear, and I am more 
interested in learning about the charges of fraud that are emerging from 
the government side (something you don't get on the bus or at the signature 
tables). In fact, I have concluded that this business of being an 
international observer is a bit like seeing through a glass darkly--- we 
see only appearances and not what is actually happening. How many people 
are signing several times at different places? How many forged 
identifications? How many sheets are being slipped in when no one is 
looking? We can have suspicions that something is not quite right, and we 
can identify specific abuses (as with the use of the Sumate cards and the 
problem of unregulated itinerants), but there is absolutely no way that it 
is possible for us to have any idea of the scope of problems at all. This 
is something to remember when you hear of representatives from the Carter 
Center or other observer bodies talk about how smoothly and properly this 
process is going. I return and turn on the TV and see a person from the 
Carter Center (from California) say exactly this--- it is all going very well.

Incredible stories of fraud now on TV. I'll pass these on in the next note. 
There have been confrontations and tables shut. The border with Colombia 
shut at places because of fraud at border areas.

in solidarity,


Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office Fax:   (604) 291-5944
Home:   Phone (604) 689-9510

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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