Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Hugo Chavez persecutes SUMATE

Originally written for Petroleumworld.com and reposted here

By Gustavo Coronel

Pettiness and ignorance in the Chavez regime have reached their highest point in the manner they are handling the case of SUMATE, a Venezuelan non-governmental organization that has as its main objective the promotion of electoral transparency and education. In doing its job very well, SUMATE has become a pebble in Chavez left shoes (he has no right shoe) and, therefore, has to be eliminated. What started as insults and threats in Chavez’s national TV hookups has become an official accusation against SUMATE representatives for “treason”. In this case “treason” means having received $53000 from the National Endowment For Democracy, NED, a U.S. non-governmental foundation supported by both political parties and financed by the U.S. Congress. This foundation, in turn, has been accused by the Venezuelan government of financing SUMATE and other Venezuelan organizations in their efforts to overthrow the government of Hugo Chavez. The scandal generated by the accusations made against SUMATE is the product of great ignorance on the part of the Venezuelan regime, combined with the efforts of mercenaries who have supplied the “evidence” of SUMATE’s treason. The basis for the accusation against SUMATE is very shaky indeed, since receiving funds from international organizations to conduct legitimate activities in a country cannot be defined as treason. SUMATE utilized the money received from NED in activities connected with the improvement of electoral mechanisms in Venezuela. They helped Venezuelans to organize a signature collection for a referendum that is a process allowed by the Venezuelan Constitution.

In monitoring the referendum, they disclosed the numerous irregularities committed by the Chavez-controlled National Electoral Council and, as such, they became a prime target for the retaliation of the regime. In all of its activities SUMATE was helping the cause of real democracy. In the accusation against SUMATE the regime has included NED, the U.S. organization granting the money. The Attorney General, who only seems to come alive when he acts against the adversaries of the regime, has enthusiastically denounced NED for trying to overthrow Hugo Chavez. He has been joined by Information Minister Izarra and, even, by Vice-president Rangel. There is no doubt that their accusations represent the official position of the current regime. In doing so, they have relied almost entirely on “secret information” collected by a Mrs. Eva Golinger, who has admitted receiving payment for her services. This information led Izarra to say that SUMATE had received $23 million from NED, a slightly different figure from the $ 53000 actually granted to that organization. What is important in this case is that, while the regime acts in this way, public opinion, both in Venezuela and abroad seems to believe that (1) that SUMATE is not involved in illegal activities related to the overthrow of Chavez and that (2) NED is a respectable organization and not an arm of the CIA.

A recent letter signed by more than 70 personalities from all around the world claims the opposite of what Chavez, Rangel, Rodriguez and Izarra are saying. From Vaclav Havel to Sergio Aguayo, from Madeleine Allbright to Jorge Dominguez, from Peter Eigen to Francis Fukuyama, the list reads like a who is who of the intellectual and humanistic world. They claim that persecuting nongovernmental organizations “for receiving democratic assistance is both a violation of the Inter-American Charter and the Warsaw Declaration of the Community of Democracies”. They add that NED is “a highly reputable and established nongovernmental foundation that promotes democracy in over 80 countries around the world”. So, who is to be believed? Knowing most of the persons on both sides of the controversy I believe that the Chavez regime has made a tragic mistake in this clumsy attempt at persecuting SUMATE and at labeling NED as a promoter of political unrest in Venezuela. The facts do not support these accusations. In doing so the regime has adopted a fascist, totalitarian stance.

The persecution of SUMATE is the most notorious but not the only one this regime is guilty of. The imprisonment of General Alfonzo Martinez, of the Tachira dissidents, of Capriles Radonsky and others are clear examples of the increasingly undemocratic nature of this regime. The idea behind these actions is to harass the adversary because, sooner or later, they let the people go, with the exception of the Army officer condemned to five years in prison by a military court for “insulting” the armed forces, another case which should be repudiated by international public opinion.

In the Venezuela of Hugo Chavez the witch-hunt is on. I have compared it elsewhere with a still mild version of the “terror” during the French revolution. There is a “revolution” going on within the “revolution” and the radicals in power are claiming for the blood of the enemies. Soon, not only the opposition but the Dantons and the Robespierres of this ‘revolution” will be facing political beheading for being moderate. While all this misery, ignorance and fascist attitudes unfold, millions of Venezuelans are going hungry, the streets of our cities are getting filthier, thousands are being murdered all over the country by common criminals and unemployment increases.

What kind of a revolution is this? Can you answer this, Mr. Chavez? When are you going to tell us how the nation is really doing? You have to be accountable to the people of Venezuela. You cannot hope to stay in power indefinitely without reporting to the nation. Only dictators do this. But you claim you are not one. If you are not a dictator, you have to report to the people, both to those who voted for and against you. So far, you have not done it. We need to know what you are doing with all the millions of dollars received by your regime.

Accountability and transparency are the essential components of democracy. Why don’t you abide by these rules?

Answer. Say something with substance for a change!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Harrassment of Sumate noticed by The Economist

Originally published The Economist,Nov 4th 2004

Having consolidated a near-total grip on power, Hugo Chávez is preparing a set of laws to repress many forms of dissent. JUST last August, after months of unrest and an attempted coup, 4m Venezuelans voted against Hugo Chávez in a recall referendum, more than had voted him in as president in 2000. Yet he won the referendum, and has now completed a stunning turnaround. Local elections on October 31st left his allies controlling 20 of the country's 23 states, plus Caracas, the capital, and they looked likely to bag the state of Carabobo too after the completion of a disputed recount.

No elected leader of the country has ever wielded such power. With a majority in parliament, a tightening grip on the judiciary, the unquestioning loyalty of the military high command and a seemingly endless flow of revenues thanks to high oil prices, the “red tide” that the self-styled revolutionary predicted, referring to his own party colours, is now lapping around the necks of his opponents.

After their referendum defeat, the two dozen anti-Chávez parties could not agree on a common electoral strategy. In some regions they competed against each other, virtually guaranteeing a chavista victory. A commission of experts set up to analyse their allegations of fraud called for voter abstention, compounding the damage. Virtually the only survivors of stature are Manuel Rosales, governor of the far-western state of Zulia, and a couple of young mayors from the fledgling Justice First party, whose base is Caracas and the adjoining state of Miranda.

What will Mr Chávez do with all this power? Part of the answer lies in a set of repressive laws, currently in the legislative pipeline, which critics say will outlaw most forms of dissent and severely restrict freedom of expression. First in line is a radio and TV bill ostensibly aimed at protecting children by curbing violent and sexually explicit content. But its vague wording will, for example, allow the government to suspend transmission or, ultimately, withdraw a licence, for content which is “contrary to the security of the nation”. Already, private TV stations which have been fierce critics of Mr Chávez are showing signs of self-censorship.

Then there is the partial reform of the penal code, which would outlaw virtually every form of protest the opposition has attempted over the past three years. “Intimidating” a senior public official (for example, by banging pots and pans outside his or her house, a popular form of protest) would carry a sentence of three to eight years in jail. Causing panic by spreading “false information”: two to five years. Promoting “disobedience”, even in private: up to six years behind bars.
Article 350 of the 1999 constitution, drafted by the chavistas themselves, enshrines the right to disobey a government that undermines human rights. But a proposed terrorism law would turn many forms of civil disobedience, such as blocking streets, into terrorist acts, with correspondingly severe penalties. And a national police bill would put control of all local police forces, in effect, into the hands of the interior ministry.

The government has already begun to harass dissidents. Leading members of Súmate, an NGO which amounts to an opposition elections unit, face jail terms of up to 16 years. Their alleged crime is to have conspired with a foreign power—the United States—to overthrow the government. Súmate accepted a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by America's Congress and which, prosecutors allege, is a front for the CIA. A neutral judge might well throw the case out. Unfortunately, judges who defy the government tend to lose their jobs; most have only provisional positions. And the supreme court, already largely pro-Chávez, is to be expanded from 20 to 32 justices, who will be appointed by the pro-Chávez majority in parliament.

An even clearer case of distortion of justice is that of General Francisco Usón, a former finance minister in Mr Chávez's government, who was jailed last month for five-and-a-half years by a military tribunal for allegedly slandering the armed forces. The general had offered a technical opinion on television, as a combat engineer, on the workings of a flame-thrower, in the context of press allegations that one had been used on soldiers in a punishment cell. Two of the soldiers died, but seven months later no one has been charged, much less sentenced, for their deaths; the only person in jail is General Usón. The defence minister, General Jorge Luis García Carneiro, minces no words when asked about the case. Anyone, he says, civilian or military, who insults the armed forces can expect similar treatment. Viva la revolución.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Sumate: the guardian of Venezuela's democracy

Originally published here

By Aleksander Boyd

London 20 Oct. 04 - This day broke with good news; in spite of being the subject of a very well orquestrated campaign of State prosecution, Sumate -and its 45.000 volunteers- will continue guarding our democracy. That is why the NGO has become such a nuissance for neo fascist Chavez and that is why he will have no qualms in incarcerating its directors come 'deliberation' time. However as the white paper produced by them concludes "Venezuela will continue to be a democracy because that is the will of its people, Súmate will not cease in its struggle to confront any force that seeks to deny Venezuelans their hard earned right to be counted among the free citizens of the world."

With such firmness of convictions one must not entertain any doubts as to the impossibility of success of Chavez' seudo revolution. I will leave readers with a few excerpts of the said paper vis-a-vis the coming regional elections.


Almost immediately after the official result of the RRP was announced and in the mist of growing evidence of improprieties, the CNE, acquiescing to the will of President Chavez, announced the actual date for the previously postponed election of regional authorities (State Governors, mayors and other municipal authorities). In light of the shortcomings of the RRP process described above, it might be useful to look critically at this new electoral event.

1. Voter Registration

Uncertainty on the validity and rigor of the Electoral Registry persists.

• Contrary to law3, it was opened after the RRP and closed on September 8th, purportedly to give electors the chance to update information or to register.

• To date, the updated Registry has not been distributed by CNE to the interested parties as is required by law.

• There will be no time for a comprehensive independent audit of the Electoral and Civil Registers.

• The non-validation of the Registers is a restriction of the political freedom of the electors since there will be no confirmation of the validity of the two registers.

2. Integrity of the Electoral Process

First, the CNE is ignoring the Venezuelan election laws governing the regional elections in favor of improvising norms, rules and regulations arbitrarily, as it did in the RRP. The election schedule, periods and dates for the Regional Elections announced by the CNE are patently illegal.4 If the CNE insists on the date of October 31st, for the Regional Elections there will be, once again, all of the defects and illegalities that were present in the RRP. There is simply not enough time to correct them all.

Second, the CNE has not announced nor evidenced changes in its biased conduct nor in its haphazard electoral process, so any future election appears likely to be as murky, and end up as challenged, as the RRP.

Third, The defective design of the voting process that extends into very late at night (indeed, into the early morning hours) the closing time of the voting centers increases the risk of personal attacks, which is also a limitation of the political right to vote without fear.

Fourth, the CNE has not implemented any norm or standard nor has even expressed its intent to include citizen participation in all the electoral processes before, during and after voting day. The CNE has not invited international observers for the regional elections, nor have any standards for observation been declared that would allow observation of the elections or full audits in the central facilities of the CNE should such observation be granted.

Fifth, there has been no plan announced by the CNE to implement local control of the electoral process, which is required by law; but rather to process the official count and audits in the central facilities of the CNE in secret. In particular, there has been no plan announced by the CNE to count or certify ballots that differs from the counting process in the recall referendum, which was wide open to the possibility of fraud.

V. CONSEQUENCES FOR DEMOCRACY

If the Premises and their Principles are not upheld, the consequences are ominous for the nation:

• The elections will not have integrity.

• Citizen cynicism will rise, and voter participation will fall.

• The belief in democracy as a means for self-government will diminish.

• The elected officials will not be truly legitimate.

• The government will proceed unilaterally without the true consent of the governed.

• Autocracy will progressively replace democracy.

VI. SÚMATE’S ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITY

Súmate is dedicated to the preservation of Venezuela’s democratic institutions and practices. In order to do this, we seek to promote and protect voting rights.

Súmate has every intention to honor the trust millions of citizens have deposited in us as “watchdogs” for their rights as voters.

Súmate is committed to the ongoing search for truth concerning the RRP.

Súmate is working to ensure a transparent electoral process in future elections. Súmate will continue to interact with diverse actors in the international arena that share our concern for the state of democracy in Venezuela. From shared experience, we will not only learn to do our job better, but we will develop even more effective mechanisms to monitor and counteract threats to our rights and to our way of life.

With all the above in mind, Súmate wishes to conclude this brief by stating three concrete activities it is currently undertaking that should enhance our rights, as citizens, to exercise control over our own destiny:

• An investigation and discussion of the best practices and standards for:

- voter registration;

- electronic voting;

- citizen monitoring and observation of the public powers;

- international observation.

• An audit process that is already in place to execute the evaluation of the validity of the new Electoral Register as soon as it is distributed by the CNE

• Workshops for its volunteers and other interested citizens so that they may deepen their understanding of the 1999 constitution, the concept of citizen participation, and the electoral systems.

Venezuela will continue to be a democracy because that is the will of its people, Súmate will not cease in its struggle to confront any force that seeks to deny Venezuelans their hard earned right to be counted among the free citizens of the world.


Friday, July 09, 2004

Signing On To Challenge Hugo Chavez

Originally published in the Washington Post

By Nora Boustany
Friday, July 9, 2004; Page A15

Hers is a heroic fight. Maria Corina Machado smiles bravely but admits she is terrified. They are after her, she explained; the machinery of the state.


Machado is vice president of Sumate, a Venezuelan civic organization that has helped organize the drive for a recall referendum on President Hugo Chavez. She recently found out that she was under investigation for conspiracy and treason because Sumate accepted $53,400 from the National Endowment for Democracy, which receives funding from the U.S. Congress. Chavez has accused Machado, Alejandro Plaz, the president of Sumate, and two other members of the group of treason.

For the uninitiated, democracy is never simple. But the group's slow, systematic collection of signatures has empowered Venezuelans to hold a referendum next month that could force Chavez to step down.

Chavez, a former army lieutenant colonel who led a coup attempt against the government in 1992, was elected in 1998 on a vow to lift up the country's impoverished majority. Many Venezuelans have rejected his populist programs and rhetoric, and critics say his rule is headed toward authoritarianism.

Machado, 36, was invited to the United States by the Council of the Americas to address members in New York and Washington. She said she also plans to meet with U.S.-based human rights organizations and with officials from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

This week, on a recent bright, sunny day at a coffee shop in Bethesda, she explained how a movement was born.

In 2001, during a hurried conversation in the lobby of a hotel in Caracas, Machado and Plaz fretted about the course that was being shaped for Venezuela as they watched from the sideline.

"Something clicked," Machado said about the encounter with Plaz, a former regional director of an American firm. "I had this unsettling feeling that I could not stay at home and watch the country get polarized and collapse. . . . We had to keep the electoral process but change the course, to give Venezuelans the chance to count ourselves, to dissipate tensions before they built up. It was a choice of ballots over bullets."

Sumate, originally composed of professionals, now has 30,000 volunteers nationwide from all walks of life.

When Chavez came to office, he overhauled the constitution. Machado said: "We realized he established tools giving citizens the power to recall officials in midterm by referendum. If 10 percent of all registered voters signed a petition to have a referendum -- 1.2 million signatures out of 12 million by Aug. 19, 2003 -- it was enough to have a recall of any elected official."

There have been several attempts to collect signatures since 2002. A drive completed last November, with international observers -- the Organization of American States, the Carter Center and the United Nations Development Program -- six months after those organizations brokered an agreement between the government and the opposition that the constitution must be upheld.

"Now we have a referendum," she said. Machado, the eldest of four daughters born to a steel entrepreneur and an accomplished psychologist, had a good education. She graduated as an engineer at the top of her class, later earned a master's degree in finance and worked in the auto-parts industry in Valencia before moving to Caracas in 1993.

Politics had never interested her, and she had been indifferent to the economic and social ills plaguing less fortunate families. But one day, she joined her mother on a tour of a center that housed homeless orphans and abandoned youngsters brought in from the streets. The complex was like a prison, she said, and the children often ran away, scaling walls and leaping into a stream leading out, seeking to return to street life. Machado, who was pregnant with her second child, became physically ill from the stench.

The visit transformed her life.

She quit her job and began lobbying to have the management of the facility privatized, ultimately devoting eight years to its betterment.

She then ran an Internet-based services firm for three years before joining Sumate.

"This is God's work," Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy magazine, said of Sumate's drive. He was once Venezuela's minister of finance.

Chavez remains charismatic, in control and calling the shots at each twist and turn of the saga. A week before he finally agreed to the referendum, he signed a law packing the Supreme Court with 12 extra justices and giving his coalition's majority in the legislature authority to nullify the terms of sitting justices.

"Yet another example that democracy is not just about voting -- this is a delusion," Naim said. "It is also about checks and balances, independent arbiters and referees supervising the electoral process. It is not just one man, one vote, one time."

Newspapers have run pictures of Machado with headlines calling her the country's Enemy No. 1. Her children cannot understand her predicament. She has learned to steel herself against Blackberry messages urging her to run away and telephone calls pleading with her to hide.

She is trapped between formidable foes and a sea of sympathizers. "It is scary . . . all public powers of the state are stacked against you, but at the same time, people stop to tell you they are relying on you," she said. "I feel greater responsibility and I'm terrified."

Thursday, June 17, 2004

María Corina Machado will continue defending democracy in Venezuela

Originally published here

OAIPress- Caracas June 17, 2004 - “Súmate represents a threat to any person or institution that does not wish for an electoral solution in Venezuela.” Perhaps this is why its representative, María Corina Machado, believes that it is a paradox that an organization formed by citizens is being persecuted, when it is specifically engaged in strengthening the country’s republican political system and defending its democracy "it is quite intimidating to feel all the power of the State against us" said Machado. But this is the case: Machado and Alejandro Plaz, representatives of this civilian association, are being accused of “conspiracy” by the Public Prosecutor’s Office: This crime carries a jail term of 8 to 16 years, and all because they received funds from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) of the United States, for that very same purpose: to strengthen the development of democracy in Venezuela.


Súmate is considered a symbol of reliability and efficiency in an extremely polarized society. Súmate inspires confidence when most institutions in Venezuela lack even the slightest credibility. Furthermore, Súmate has filled an information gap during the citizens’ consultation processes since the institutions responsible for the same never did so. Actually, Súmate came into being at a time in which the awareness of Venezuelan citizens reached its highest peak as to electoral control mechanisms that must be continuously activated, as stated by its representative.

This civilian association, organized in the year 2002 by a group of professionals with no political experience, is now deeply involved in a situation that is far from easy. Its mission: to promote, defend, facilitate and support the full exercise of the political rights that the Constitution grants to all Venezuelans; and it is for playing this role that they are being persecuted. In fact, it is perfectly legal and contemplated in the Venezuelan laws for non-profit organizations to request international cooperation with a view to strengthening their projects.

For this reason, Machado defends such financing, so debated by the regime and “grounds” for the accusation. In this regard, she explained that financing from the NED was requested because of the need to initiate electoral education and training programs, since local financing was very difficult to obtain. Consequently, Súmate presented the project to the National Endowment for Democracy, aimed at guiding citizens in electoral matters and systems. The amount of $53,400 was approved for this project, exclusively for educational and training purposes, intended for community leaders and citizens in general. All these expenses are recorded in our books and are auditable. “Obtaining funds from the NED is far from representing a crime, we are proud of having obtained it. The program, as well as its terms, is available to anyone who wishes to know about them.”

There is something else that Machado wants to make clear: there is no substantive juridical element that leads to suspect of a potential crime. The question is that a persecution is in progress, for political reasons, with no grounds, intended to frighten, intimidate and paralyze Súmate’s work. She observes that public institutions of the country may be successful in pulling some of the persons of the organization out of the game, but Súmate’s mission is not going to stop in seeking a pacific solution for Venezuela. Thousands of devoted and qualified citizens will continue with their volunteer work. “This arbitrariness only makes us more determined to carry on”.

In defense of the citizens

María Corina Machado defines Súmate as a civilian organization, independent of the structures of political parties, seeking to defend all citizens with no differences. “This generates conflicts because pro-government allies –who are against promoting an electoral solution- label the organization as anti-government and we have never thought of ourselves in this way. On the other hand, some democratic forces, whose structures are very party-oriented, feel threatened because they consider that citizens are assuming a kind of representation that is different from the traditional ones of political parties. For this reason, as an organization we are under constant strain when we interact with State agencies and political parties.” Actually, Machado clarifies that what Súmate wants is to claim spaces that eminently belong to the citizens and must be respected by all political parties.

Súmate’s experience resulted in the collection and processing of signatures for the Consultation Referendum and the Constitutional Amendment, as well as in the design, planning and coordination of El Firmazo, El Reafirmazo, Operación Remate and the most recent signature ratification process in Venezuela – the “reparos”- to re-activate the Recall Referendum against President Hugo Chávez's mandate. All these tests have made Súmate come through with flying colors and strengthened. It is recognized as the technical power of pro referendum supporters that is seeking a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s political crisis. And this may just be the reason why Chavez himself has accused its directors of being “traitors and conspirators.”

With the Recall Referendum less than two months away, and after the opposition’s success in overcoming all the obstacles for obtaining the signatures, Machado considers that we are living an absolutely extraordinary process in Venezuela’s history and truly exciting because it is the citizens who are promoting and leading the same. She believes that a turning point has been reached in which the civil society, and particularly its leaders, should not take impulsive and immature actions. “Although all this process that our country is going through has made the differences among Venezuelans stand out, our existing similarities should be highlighted since they are expressed in our passion for peace and democracy, and in that we are remarkably courageous people.”

In fact, Súmate’s representative points out that the polls reveal that 80 percent of the population favors the Recall Referendum as a means of achieving a peaceful and democratic solution, because we are a deeply polarized society. In her opinion, no government can maintain itself with poverty levels like the ones in this country. For this reason, our future’s greatest commitment is to eject poverty from Venezuela, include all citizens, and generate opportunities for all. The country’s true challenge begins after the recall.

Organized Citizens

For María Corina Machado, Súmate’s success is not only a consequence of its organizational work but also because of the excellence of its people. In a very short time it has positioned itself as an objective, efficient, responsible organization and autonomous with respect to political parties. It is integrated entirely by civilians and its greatest merits consist in having more than 30,000 volunteers throughout the country, whose only requirement to enter is to respect the laws, to believe in democracy and to have autonomy and impartiality in handling results. She assures that the commitment of all of Sumate’s volunteers is not to favor any electoral option and not to be involved in any political activity.

Machado also points out that, as opposed to other political organizations, Sumate’s future is precisely not having power aspirations because its role is to continue defending social control from a citizen’s perspective. Now then, if any of our members have political aspirations, they are completely free to pursue the same, but this member must first withdraw from Súmate.”

The Weight of the Persecution

María Corina Machado is an industrial engineer with a Master’s degree in finance and also the mother of three children. She talks about what this feeling of being persecuted and accused of “conspiracy” involves. She reveals that as a citizen she is not afraid of justice, but is very afraid of injustice. “It is really intimidating to feel all the force of the State against me. It causes a great deal of distress. What has been an extremely gratifying work, a once in a lifetime experience, has had a very high cost from a personal point of view. I have had to subject my family to this persecution. And she asks herself: How do you explain to your children that you are being accused of “conspiracy” when you have always inculcated upon them that you are working in the defense of democracy and the law?

In spite of the persecution, Sumate’s directors have received innumerable demonstrations of support, solidarity and confidence from all the country. Thousands of citizens have contacted the association and said “We trust you and you are not alone”. And for María Corina Machado, this support and her commitment with democracy is precisely what impels her to continue ahead in spite of all the obstacles…

FREEDOM IS A UNIVERSAL HUMAN ASPIRATION

* The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is a private, nonprofit organization created in 1983 to strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts. With funds provided by the United States Congress, NED makes hundreds of grants each year for the support of groups in favor of democracy at worldwide levels, guided by the belief that freedom is a universal human aspiration that can be realized through the development of democratic institutions, procedures, and values.

* In Venezuela, laws are recent in electoral matters and permit financing international cooperation initiatives,such as the support granted by NED. This induced Súmate to request funds for an electoral education campaign related to the Recall Referendum, at national levels. As a result of the NED’s grant, Súmate together with other organizations, trains voters in all Venezuela in all that involves electoral processes while stimulating their participation for the recall through a voting procedure.

* For this reason, the objects described by Súmate in the fund application process to the NED are aimed at: 1) developing a national network of independent volunteers with no political affiliation to work in the Recall Referendum and the elections; 2) strengthening non-government associations to work in different aspects of the referendum process; and 3) promoting popular support for the referenda.

* To pay for all these activities, Súmate received a total amount of $53,400 from the National Endowment for Democracy, discriminated as follows: 1) Travel expenses: $7,200; 2) Contractual Services: $24,760, and 3) other direct expenses: $21,440.

* The NED’s payment schedule for Súmate has progressively developed as follows: 1) $17,800 granted in September, 2003; 2) $13,350 in February, 2004, 3) $13,350 in May, 2004, and 4) the last payment of $8,900 to be paid next August for a total of $53,400.



Sunday, May 16, 2004

Venezuela: Sumate en la mira de Hugo Chavez

Originally published here

Comunicado de Sumate

La Fiscalía General de la República cita a directivos de la Asociación Civil Súmate, a fin de imputarles supuestos delitos. María Corina Machado y Alejandro Plaz, representantes de esta organización, acudieron recientemente a la Fiscalía Sexta Nacional, a cargo de Luisa Ortega Díaz, quien los citó, en calidad de testigos, para rendir declaración sobre el financiamiento del National Endowment for Democracy, NED (Fondo Nacional para la Democracia).

Ahora la Fiscal Luisa Ortega Díaz cita nuevamente a los directivos María Corina Machado y Alejandro Plaz pero en calidad de imputados, por esta misma investigación. Plaz deberá presentarse este viernes 21 y Machado el próximo miércoles 26 de mayo.

La Asociación Civil Súmate hace del conocimiento de la ciudadanía que esta decisión del Ministerio Público tiene la finalidad de ejercer presión con el fin de amedrentar a sus voluntarios y, con ello, dificultar el cumplimiento de su misión de defender y promover los derechos políticos de todos los ciudadanos, establecidos en la Constitución Nacional de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela.

Machado y Plaz explicaron que esta medida judicial obedece a que el Ejecutivo Nacional y representantes del sector oficialista no le perdonan a Súmate el hecho de haber apoyado técnicamente la organización de los procesos de El Firmazo y El Reafirmazo, eventos promovidos con el objetivo de que los ciudadanos expresaran su voluntad para solicitar la activación del Referendo Revocatorio Presidencial, previsto en el artículo 72 de la Constitución Nacional, y así contribuir a una salida pacífica, democrática, constitucional y electoral a la crisis política y económica que atraviesa el país.

Súmate comprometido con los ciudadanos

Los representantes de la organización manifestaron que Súmate garantizará a los ciudadanos y a todos los factores que participan en la lucha por la democracia en este país y aquellos que han brindado su confianza y apoyo incondicional, que no cederá espacios al desánimo y frustración, ni cesará en los esfuerzos por apoyar y defender sus derechos políticos y de participación, sobre todo ahora, cuando solo faltan 10 días para el proceso de los reparos con el fin de activar el Referendo Revocatorio Presidencial.

Los hechos

El Ministerio Público abrió esta investigación luego que el Presidente de la República, Hugo Chávez Frías, en su Programa Aló Presidente del pasado 15 de febrero del año en curso, instruyera a la Procuradora General de la República para adelantar una investigación por el financiamiento del National Endowment for Democracy de Estados Unidos (NED) a Súmate, al señalar que podría haber incurrido en el delito de traición a la patria y conspiración.

Luego de este señalamiento por parte del primer mandatario nacional, estos órganos del Estado venezolano abrieron una investigación a sus espaldas, sin su conocimiento, además de impedir que las personas investigadas de la asociación y sus abogados tengan acceso al expediente. Otra particularidad es que los investigados María Corina Machado y Alejandro Plaz fueron citados a declarar, en primer lugar como testigos, para recabar ilegalmente, y sin presencia de sus abogados, información que probablemente será utilizada en su contra. Pero lo más sorprendente es que ahora el Ministerio Público, a través de la Fiscal Sexta Luisa Ortega Díaz ha citado a María Corina Machado y Alejandro Plaz como imputados por los mismos hechos.

Las verdaderas razones

La Asociación Civil considera como las verdaderas razones de esta persecución: el hecho de que Súmate fue un elemento fundamental en la identificación y denuncia de las irregularidades cometidas en el proceso de El Reafirmazo, antes, durante y después de la fase de verificación de firmas; Súmate en las actuales circunstancias está ofreciendo a los ciudadanos la información indispensable que necesitan los firmantes que están decididos a reparar sus rúbricas; y, por último, Súmate representa un inmenso riesgo para aquellos que planean realizar fraudes electorales en los venideros reparos, previstos desde el viernes 28 al domingo 30 de mayo, porque saben que esta organización ciudadana puede detectarlos, documentarlos y denunciarlos.

Otro hecho que no parece casual es que la citación como imputados a los directivos de la organización civil, María Corina Machado y Alejandro Plaz, se produzca una semana antes de la realización del proceso de Reparos. Sin embargo, no les queda la menor duda que esta asociación seguirá participando, ahora con mayor ánimo, organización y profesionalismo en este y los otros procesos que se avecinan.

El delito de Súmate

Aunque se le acusa de traición a la patria y conspiración, los únicos delitos que ha cometido Súmate, y que no le perdona el sector oficial, son creer en la democracia participativa, prevista en la Constitución Nacional, organizar a los ciudadanos para que ejerzan sus derechos políticos y de participación, defender esos derechos y denunciar las violaciones que se cometen a los mismos. Por eso, sus miembros no entienden que un gobierno que promulga la democracia participativa, enfile sus baterías contra aquellas organizaciones de la sociedad civil, como Súmate, y los ciudadanos que la integran, por creer en ella.

Súmate sigue y seguirá

A pesar de esta persecución, la Asociación Civil Súmate continuará informando y apoyando a los ciudadanos en el ejercicio de sus derechos políticos. El mensaje que envía al país es que por cada uno de los miembros de la organización que saquen del juego, se levantarán miles de voluntarios en diferentes partes del país que han acompañado y quienes tomarán sus banderas de la participación ciudadana. Están convencidos que Súmate sigue y seguirá.

El norte son los reparos

Los directivos de Súmate María Corina Machado y Alejandro Plaz hicieron un llamado a los 3 millones 500 mil ciudadanos que firmaron para solicitar la activación del Referendo Revocatorio Presidencial a participar activamente en el proceso de reparos, previsto desde el viernes 28 al domingo 30 de mayo.

A los dos millones de ciudadanos con firmas válidas, Machado y Plaz le recordaron que sus firmas no tendrán valor a menos que los reparos sean exitosos; por lo cual deben convertirse en agentes activos, motivando y apoyando a los firmantes con derecho a los reparos para que éstos puedan incluir sus firmas. A los 375 mil 241 ciudadanos cuyas firmas fueron consideradas por el CNE “no válidas” y a los 36 mil 871 que le desaparecieron sus firmas, para que también apoyen a los firmantes a reparo y, a través de ellos, rescaten el derecho a participar que el ente comicial les arrebató.

Por último, enviaron un mensaje a los firmantes que deberán ir a reparo para que cumplan con su deber ciudadano y sepan que más de 3 millones 500 mil venezolanos cuentan con ellos. Machado y Plaz les recordaron que el destino de la nación está en sus manos, por lo cual se convertirán en héroes de esta batalla.

Todo este esfuerzo en el que ha venido participando la Asociación Civil Súmate, aseguraron María Corina Machado y Alejandro Plaz, constituye la salida democrática, electoral, constitucional y pacífica a la crisis que afecta a nuestro país.