Friday, July 29, 2005

Prosecution of Sumate leaders in Venezuela: ABA's observer preliminary report

Originally published here

The complete report can be found here

By Douglass Cassel | Center for International Human Rights

Editor's note: At the request of Mr. Robert D. Evans, Director of Governmental Affairs of the American Bar Association, I include this disclaimer: "The attached report was prepared by Professor Douglas Cassel for the American Bar Association following his observation of preliminary proceedings in the Sumate case. It has not been approved for release by the American Bar Association and therefore does not represent the views of the Association or any of its entities but only the personal views of Professor Cassel."

This preliminary report is presented by American Bar Association observer Douglass Cassel, following a visit to Venezuela during pretrial proceedings held on July 6 and 7, 2005, in case no. 41-C-4077-04 before the Fourth Court of Control of First Instance in the Criminal Judicial Circuit of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas.


Venezuelan prosecutors have charged two leaders of a civic group for soliciting funds from the National Endowment for Democracy (“NED”) in Washington to educate voters about their right to participate in a referendum to recall Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías. Two trainers who led voter education workshops are charged as accomplices. The recall referendum, held in August 2004, was unsuccessful.

The case is brought in a context of political polarization between Venezuela’s government and the opposition, and amid disputes between its government and the government of the United States and NED, a private, non-profit organization with an independent board of directors, but which by law receives annual funding from the US State Department.

As an independent professional organization dedicated to the rule of law, the American Bar Association takes no position on Venezuela’s internal political affairs. Nor does the ABA take a position on policy differences between the governments of Venezuela and the US, or on whether the NED grant in question was advisable as a matter of policy. The ABA’s sole concern is whether the proceedings in this case comport with international standards governing criminal prosecutions and rights of political participation, and the implications of this case for the rule of law and the exercise of internationally protected rights in Venezuela.

The civic group that solicited the NED grant is called Súmate (“Join up”). Venezuelan prosecutors appear to concede that, except for the solicitation of NED funds, Súmate’s educational and promotional activities relating to the referendum were lawful. However, they accuse Súmate’s President, Alejandro Plaz, and Vice President, María Corina Machado, of violating a law that imposes prison terms of 8 to 16 years on any Venezuelan who “solicits foreign intervention in the internal political affairs of Venezuela.”

In the opinion of this observer, both that law as applied in this case and the criminal proceedings to date fail to meet international standards.

First, as applied in a novel way in this case, the law is impermissibly vague. Although it dates from early in the last century, it apparently has never previously been used to prosecute foreign funding of otherwise lawful activity in Venezuela. Its meaning in this context is so unclear as to violate international standards requiring fair notice to defendants of what conduct is deemed criminal. How are Venezuelan citizens to know whether a civic group’s seeking foreign funding for lawful activities equates to soliciting “foreign intervention”?

Second, the ambiguities in the law should be resolved in a manner consistent with Venezuela’s international legal obligations. So interpreted, the law would not criminalize Súmate’s solicitation of NED funds. International law protects both the right to solicit funds to educate citizens about the exercise of fundamental rights, and the right to make effective the exercise of the vote in a referendum.

Third, the case is brought before a Venezuelan judiciary that fails to meet international standards of judicial independence. More than 80% of Venezuelan judges, including the pretrial judge in this case, are “provisional” judges. They have no tenure and can be removed by the Supreme Court at any time without explanation.

The Supreme Court likewise lacks structural independence. During 2004 it was expanded from 20 to 32 justices, and other justices were replaced, so that the overwhelming majority of justices are now considered pro-Chávez. And their appointments may be suspended or annulled based on such subjective standards as omitting “true facts” from their opinions or bringing the judiciary into “disrespect.”

The vulnerability of the judiciary to outside influence is of particular concern in the politicized context of this case. Not only did Súmate promote a referendum to recall the President, but the President publicly accused Súmate leaders of committing crimes by soliciting NED funds. The prosecution began soon thereafter and has continued during public, mutual recriminations between Venezuelan authorities and NED.

Fourth, certain aspects of the pretrial proceedings to date violate due process of law. For example, even though Súmate leaders were the targets of the preliminary criminal inquiry, the prosecutor initially accorded them rights only as witnesses rather than as suspects. However, it is not yet clear whether these violations will ultimately be prejudicial at trial.

On the other hand, Venezuelan courts have protected the rights of the accused to remain at liberty pending trial. The Supreme Court ruled in November 2004 that they should not be incarcerated pending trial. In July 2005 the pretrial judge again refused the prosecutor’s request that they be jailed pending trial.

Despite these laudable rulings, the proceedings overall fail to meet international standards of the rule of law. Súmate leaders are being prosecuted in a highly charged political atmosphere under an impermissibly vague law, interpreted in a manner inconsistent with their internationally protected rights, before a judiciary that lacks independence and has already violated certain of their due process rights.

Moreover, during a pretrial hearing on July 6, 2005, the prosecutor warned that additional persons may be charged, and that further charges may be brought against Súmate leaders. Internationally respected human rights lawyers in Venezuela expressed concern to the observer that the prosecution of Súmate could have a chilling effect on the exercise of political rights, and that it is part of a broader pattern of persecution of groups opposed to President Chávez.

At the conclusion of that hearing on July 7, 2005, the pretrial judge overruled defense motions to dismiss and ordered that the case against all four defendants proceed to trial. Although the timing is uncertain, the trial could begin as early as August 2005.

The European Union has reportedly decided to send an observer if the case is taken to trial. For the reasons discussed in part 10 below, the ABA should likewise send an observer to the trial. An ABA decision on further action, if any, can and should await the observer’s final report.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

No more "secret" voting in Venezuela?

Original for this site

One of the criticism made by the Venezuelan electoral board, CNE, is that additional "electronic automatization" is directly endangering the secret of the vote at the polling station. Indeed, now the CNE pretends us to check in first through a lap top that contains the voter registry. That is, from now on the voter will be electronically registered for name AND ARRIVAL TIME. Since the voter will stand in line right then, in the same sequence as s/he arrived at the polling station, it will be very easy to "arrange" the internal registry of the electronic machines to figure out who voted for who. Sumate has made an active web page which shows clearly how the system would work.

This page is in Spanish but with the explanations given above, the non Spanish reader will figure out clearly how the system functions to detect who casts what vote.

There has been enough of an outcry from the part of Sumate that the CNE has announced that the system will be "tested" in only two states for the coming August 7 election. But it is EXTREMELY clear that the Venezuelan system could be rigged for more important elections, such as the parliamentarian of December 2005 or the presidential of December 2006, the ones that Chavez really cares about.

However what is even worse than any eventual cheating by the CNE is that people will be scared. Afraid of losing any social benefit, afraid of receiving any unjust sanction (see the infamous Tascon list with the names of all those who signed against Chavez in August 2004), many opponents of the regime will prefer either to abstain from voting, or feel forced to vote for Chavez. Even if eventually the system is ditched there will be a significant amount of people that will be dubious for quite a while. But then again this is the intention of the regime, isn´t it?

Thus the much vaunted 1999 constitution, allegedlychockfulll of civil rights, is seeing all these rights taken away one by one. The right to call for a recall election has disappeared when people saw that their name was taken by the government and used against them. The right of secret voting seems on the way out. The right to justice has been taken away last year by packing the High Court by Chavez hacks. Etc, etc...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Delenda Sumate!

Originally published here

Rome had already won two devastating wars against Carthage and had reached a compromised peace that lasted many years when senator Marcus Cato started a pro-war campaign with one persisting idea:

“Delenda Carthago!”.

It meant, that, no matter what, Rome would never be safe unless the rival phoenician city of Carthage was totally destroyed. For years, with a stubbornness that was noted even after centuries of history, Cato repeated over and over that Carthage had to disappear. He actually finished every intervention about any topic with the famous sentence.

Publicity is always effective. In the end, Cato’s message was heard and Rome decided to go for what was called the third Punic war. Once Carthage had finished paying all the old tributes to Rome, the latest imposed new and tougher conditions to provoke a new conflictive situation. As expected, Carthage’s inhabitants were mad of rage when they knew the new absurd conditions imposed by Rome and the war restarted again.

It was a tough and dirty war, even for those times, Carthage inhabitants resisted as much as they could but the Romans kept the fight. They had just one objective in mind: thoroughly destroy Carthage.

After three bloody years of continuous fights, Rome reached its objective in such an effective way, that there was nobody left from Carthage to formally surrender. Some say that they even throw salt to the defeated city so that it would never be born again. For the first time in their history, the Romans had failed to incorporate the culture of the conquered city, as there was no culture, history or customs left. To this day, we do not know more about Carthage and its inhabitants because of the unusual Roman will to destroy it..

Ironically, Carthage’s destruction did not prevent the decline of Rome, but rather accelerated it. Some historians claim that this was because it gave the Romans a false sense of security. Others say that the destruction of Rome had already started from within, with the decline of the traditional Roman values that were being heavily influenced by the greek ways of life. Some even say that Cato used Carthage as a diversion, consciously knowing that the real menace to the Roman way of life came from Greece.

After reading this fascinating story, I thought of the similarities between the Sumate persecution by the Chavez government and the insistence of Cato to destroy Carthage.

Chavez was a military man and it is still today a military man. In his quest towards absolute power, he has been treating Venezuelan institutions as if they were “the enemy”. An enemy that had to be controlled and beaten.

He has been extremely successful.

His success is due in part to the clumsy and inefficient opposition, in part because nobody believed that he could go that far and still pretend that he was a democratic ruler. Finally and foremost, because Venezuela had weak institutions to start with.

No matter the reason of Chavez’s success, there was a new type of enemy in town that Chavez was not used to fight: Sumate.

The origin of Sumate is, to say the least, unusual. In a country where the civil society was not used to have its voice heard, suddenly there was a civil group that organized itself to literally prevent a civil war in Venezuela. They found the democratic exit to the terrible polarization crisis that was lived in Venezuela.

It was an exit that any democratic leader would have welcome: a recall Referendum, guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution; let the people decide.

But Chavez government was not happy at all about it and did all the possible tricks to avoid going to a Referendum. Sumate organized a signature collection, not once, but three times! (see Daniel’s excellent summary here). They were systematic and efficient and used Chavez’s own weapon: the 1999 Chavista Constitution to lead the fight.

A few months before the Referendum took place, Sumate persecution started. It was Chavez itself who, like Cato in the Senate, initiated it by talking in his Sunday TV program about the NED funding. But the Chavista government is, in matters of political persecution, much more effective than the Roman government. It did not take years to initiate the “Delenda Sumate” campaign. The very next day, the Sumate directive was charged by the government attorneys.

I do not think that the funding was illegal. The money was a small grant to organize courses to promote democratic awareness. However, if the money had indeed been illegal, then the government should have fined Sumate and asked them to reimburse it. End of it.

But, according to Chavez, Sumate delenda est! The government had to put all its weight and influence to discredit Sumate and to take its directive to court for …no less than treason!

They dusted a very old article of the very archaic Venezuelan penal code to state that Sumate was destroying “the Republican form” of the government. Thanks to a convoluted interpretation that nobody in his right mind would accept, receiving the small grant from the NED resulted in being charged for treason and risking up to 16 years in jail.

And, by the way, we are talking about Venezuelan prisons.

The attack was not directed towards the institution. It was personally aimed at the four highest members of Sumate: Maria Corina Machado, Alejandro Plaz, Ricardo Estevez and Luis Enrique Palacios. The four young engineers that had dared to create a new form of resistance in Venezuela. Chavez idea must have been to kill two birds with one stroke: eliminate the head of the enemy and intimidate anyone that would ever attempt to carry out the type of dissension that Sumate was leading.

Delenda Sumate!

Meanwhile, since the Referendum, the mighty Chavez government has been taking over whatever was left of the democratic institutions of the country. In particular, the judiciary system, that has never been a model of independence, has been revamped to have only judges blindly committed to Chavez. I hope that Sumate is cleared, but the hope is closer to wishful thinking.

So, there is a high probability that, in the end, Sumate will be destroyed, and that the Chavez goverment will have thrown salt to the Sumate office created by a small group of unlikely democratic heroes.

Maybe, like some historians suspected, Chavez, like Cato, is using Sumate as a diversion. Maybe he is really committed to attack this new type of enemy that resists his controlling expansion or maybe he just do not know how to govern without having an enemy in front of him. In any case, it is clear that Chavez has not learned the lessons from Rome.The Romans flourished while they incorporated the good features of the foreign cultures into their own. The anhilation of Carthage was the beginning of the end. Conversely, Chavez has not understood that he needs the culture of Sumate to be integrated to the democratic values of his government. He does not understand either that it is good for his government to have a democratic watchdog like Sumate in his backyard.

Chavez has not realized that his enemy is not Sumate. His enemy, like in Rome, comes from within: his own inefficiency and his own message of hatred and division that have transformed the country and led it to the brink of civil war.

He can ask his followers to “Delenda Sumate” as much as he wants and like the Romans, he might win the last Punic war.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Sumate: free and democratic elections impossible in Venezuela

Originally published here by Gustavo Coronel

To choose government officers by electoral means is one of the essential components of a Democratic State but not the only one. The current conditions prevailing in the Venezuelan electoral system indicate that there is no hope that transparent and honest elections can be held in my country. Therefore, voting would only serve the purpose of validating a fraudulent system and lending the regime of Hugo Chávez an illusory semblance of legitimacy.

In order to document my assertions, let me mention first some background information on the Venezuelan electoral system that shows its illegitimacy and, later, summarize the latest report by Súmate on the current dismal situation of the National Electoral Council (CNE), in preparation for the Venezuelan regional elections of August 7th. I hope these considerations can show, beyond any reasonable doubt, that voting in Venezuela today is not a true expression of democracy but a travesty of this essential democratic right.

1. The existing National Electoral Council was designated in violation of the Venezuelan Constitution.

The Supreme Tribunal of Justice, without the intervention of the proper Nominating Committee stipulated by Article 295 of the Constitution, designated the existing CNE on a provisional basis in August 25, 2003. However, this CNE has been acting as if it was permanent, which is not. In fact, when two of the principal directors, Carrasquero and Zamora, left, they should have been replaced by their official substitutes ("suplentes") but this was not done. Article 296 was violated in the manner this replacement was made, not on the basis of a selection by a Committee of civil society but chosen by the Chávez regime. Originally, in truth, the members of the CNE should have been designated by the vote of the two thirds of the membership of the National Assembly but this was never done. Therefore, all the past and future acts of this CNE are illegal and invalid since the composition of the Board has been structured in violation of the Constitution. Such an irregular CNE cannot preside over a valid election! There cannot be valid elections under the supervision of this illegal Electoral Council. Yet, this is what this regime is attempting to do. And I have to ask: What is the OAS doing there, accepting to monitor elections that are illegal to start with?

2. Current conditions make a free and democratic election impossible.

Súmate, the organization being persecuted by the Chávez regime for treason is denouncing that the elections of August 7th in Venezuela cannot be free and democratic. The issue of the transparency of Venezuelan elections is of the greatest importance for Latin America and the entire Western Hemisphere. What Súmate and the Venezuelan opposition are saying is:

* There is no reliable Electoral Register in Venezuela. Numerous irregularities exist in the number and identity of new voters, in the already registered voters, in the processes of change in the existing lists, in the possibility of doing audits and in the definition of new electoral circuits. As a result, there is no reasonable level of confidence in the transparency of the process. Venezuelans cannot be sure that only those who should vote will vote. For example, the register grew in one month, July 2004, by 12%. This sounds very strange when one sees that this growth is only normally attained in five years. This abrupt increase coincided with the appearance in the register of foreign terrorists such as Rodrigo Granda and the man called "El Chiguiro," both members of the Colombian narco-guerrilla. And Granda voted!

* The audit of the electoral register requested by previous monitoring agencies (The Carter Center and the OAS) has not been done.

* The information on voters posted by the CNE is incomplete, without birth date or addresses. The information has not been given, as the law dictates, to the political parties or posted in the centers for voting. This is a violation of the Law of Suffrage, articles 95 and 106.

* Electoral circuits have been established in an illegal manner. They should have been approved by the National Assembly 13 months before and they were not. They were established without the required approval of the National Assembly. These illegal changes involve 30% of the voters.

* Independent organizations and political parties do not have knowledge of what systems and processes will be utilized in the August elections. This violates article 3 of the Law of Suffrage.

* There are no guarantees that voting will be secret. The article 112 of the Law of Suffrage establishes that there will be a physical record of each voter, together with fingerprint and signature. But the CNE has decided to establish an electronic system that allows the CNE to know how a voter voted. The electronic system violates the Law of Suffrage since this law demands secrecy of the vote and requires that the voter has total trust in that condition of secrecy.

* The CNE will not allow manual counting of all votes. During the last event only a manual counting involving 0.3% of the votes was done, without any monitoring by external observers. This, in spite of a promise to check manually at least 10% of the votes.

* International monitoring is being discouraged. Three days before the deadline for an invitation to monitor, the European Union has not yet received such an invitation. According to the regulations imposed by the current CNE they have the right to publish or not the reports of the observers.

* Proportional representation stipulated in articles 63 and 293 of the Constitution is being violated due to the maneuvers of pro-Chávez parties, before the passive eyes of the electoral council.

In summary:

The current Venezuelan National Electoral Council is an illegitimate body and is acting in an arbitrary fashion to favor the regime. Under these conditions a Venezuelan citizen has no guarantees of impartiality and of the transparency of the process. How can he, she be asked to go to vote? The Venezuelan elections would be a mockery, like the ones that took place in Iraq, with Hussein obtaining 99% of the votes or in Zimbabwe, with Mugabe or in Castro's Cuba. According to a recent report by the Inter-American Dialog, Venezuela is only comparable to Haiti in its level of democratic quality.

Voting in the forthcoming elections would only serve the propaganda purposes of the Chávez political regime.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Sumate: the CNE has not fulfilled audit of the electoral registry, nor has it cleaned up electoral rolls

From Union Radio.

María Corina Machado, integrante de la organización civil Súmate, reiteró que continúan los esfuerzos que adelantan con la campaña para impugnar el Registro Electoral venezolano. Asimismo recordó que el Consejo Nacional Electoral se habría comprometido a realizar una auditoría pública para depurar el REP y no ha cumplido.

"Los casos de Rodrigo Granda y El Chigüiro (ambos ciudadanos colombianos) fueron los más emblemáticos, pero hay miles de denuncias. Estas son personas de otra nacionalidad pero que están inscritas en el REP y votaron en el referéndum. Esto hizo tanta presión que el CNE se comprometió públicamente hacer una auditoría pública externa y la depuración del mismo (...) y en vez de cumplir su palabra de una auditoría pública pues contrata a Capel para una asistencia técnica al propio CNE".

Según Machado, entre los puntos de acuerdo llegados por el Consejo Nacional Electoral y la empresa Capel, ésta tendría prohibido entregar los resultados de las elecciones a ninguna otra organización que no sea el CNE, "ni siquiera en los términos de referencia está autorizado a dárselos a otro ente, nosotros hemos tenido reuniones y ellos han sido receptivos pero no tenemos idea de lo que efectivamente Capel va a hacer".

Respecto a la decisión del Poder Electoral de utilizar los cuadernos electrónicos sólo en los estados Nueva Esparta y Cojedes, Machado manifestó que es inaceptable, pues en su criterio ello será una excusa para obligar el uso de los mismos en las elecciones de diputados fijadas para el venidero mes de diciembre.

Expresó que durante el encuentro con la delegación de la Organización de Estados Americanos OEA que visita nuestro país, Súmate entregó sus últimos sobre el estado del Registro Electoral así como las violaciones a la ley del sufragio cometidas por parte del CNE.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The SUMATE summary

Originally published here

The trial of Sumate has started. It is important to summarize why this trial is a travesty of justice, a political vendetta under any angle that one might look at it. And, even if Sumate had committed an electoral crime, that supposed crime would pale in comparison to all the electoral crimes committed by the Chavez administration since the year 2000.

Now that I have given an early conclusion to this post, I can go into the details. First a brief history of Sumate and then a comparative table of the charges brought against Sumate and the government own electoral misdeeds. The reader will be able to decide on its own which one of the two should sit on the accused bench.

Brief Historical

SUMATE is a civil society organization, an NGO, which started as a group of young professionals seeking to help citizens demand their right to clean and fair elections. Already the Carter Center itself declared the 2000 elections flawed (though it seems to have forgotten its own words of 2000 in August 2004). The nature of the political process in Venezuela where the chavista legal steam roller started crushing any opposition attempt at obtaining redress through the ballot box made Sumate associated with the opposition parties, though some of its services could have been used by both sides.

Sumate was established sometime mid 2002 as the organization to manage the first signature gathering petition to take place. This one was the Consultative Referendum who gathered with a speed that surprised both opposition and government more than the 10% necessary for a consultative referendum as to whether Chavez should resign from office. That initiative which was received by the Electoral Board of Venezuela, CNE, under a rain of tear gas in November 2002, never prospered since by a legal trick it was declared non acceptable. However we shall see that the people who signed that supposedly illegal drive would suffer its consequences anyway.

The success of Sumate then made it the one coordinating the effort for the firmazo, that February 2003 signature drive that collected without any problem the 20% needed to ask for a Recall Election on Chavez. Again, thanks to legal tricks and the complacency of the Carter Center and OAS (and myopia of the opposition leadership) that collection was annulled. And again those who signed would still be punished for that exercise of their civil right to petition.

Once the agreement of June 2003 where signed, Sumate was again called to service to coordinate the December final petition drive to call for a Recall Election. But then things had become more complicated as the government had shown its true undemocratic color as it threatened to make good use of the fact that the names of the people that would sign would be known, made public. For example the Significant Other of this blogger, a public employee in a ministry, and fervent anti Chavez, decided not to sign that petition, with the agreement of this blogger who did sign as less subject to prosecution. Thus the beginning of the rendering of families and friends who many times could not understand why some did or did not sign.

But the Chavez administration came up with even more tricks (in spite of the now infamous "no tricks" of ex-president Carter). A large amount of signatures were declared void on shaky grounds and Sumate again had to show its efficiency by organizing a "repair" process that was successful in spite of now an outright frontal attack from the government. By then the people knew that the Chavez administration had established a list of people who had signed in all the previous signature collection. That list, embodied in one of its incarnations as the Tascon list from assemblyman Luis Tascon web page where one could check out anyone's ID number to see if that person had signed "against Chavez" was used to fire public employees and deny services from the state such as passports and ID card emission, or filter who would get a contract or a job for governmental work. Truly, a new apartheid that is still in application today as I write, and which is well documented for the fascist list it is and that is been decried overseas more and more.

But now Sumate was itself under attack as the government claimed that it had illegally received funds from the National Endowment for Democracy, NED. First the accusation is shaky even on Venezuelan legal grounds. Second the NED finances all sorts of NGO, even in Venezuela (curiously Sumate is the only one prosecuted...). And third it does not make any mystery of it, being a congressional organization which is controlled in a bipartisan manner by the US Congress. Sumate has on one of its web page the copy of the NED agreement if anyone cares to read it. As early as November 4th, The Economist was writing that under the manipulated Venezuelan judicial system, a Sumate trial could only be seen as a political prosecution. The Economist is only one of the many folks making the easy connection.

The trial that is opening against 4 of Sumate's directors has been maturing for over a year as it has been difficult for the government to make a case. First, on a public relations front, the hoped for departure to exile of Sumate's leaders has not happened as they have courageously not only stayed in Venezuela, but even left for short trips and came back each time. Second Maria Corina Machado has been received at the White House by President Bush, the only Venezuelan figure that has been received at the White House since Chavez came to office in 1998.

Summary of the charges

What Sumate is, does, represents...What chavismo is, does, represent...
Is an NGO who organizes efficiently some of the electoral needs of the opposition partiesAll rely on chavismo hold on the government levers, such as the CNE and the effect of the executive power to manage any electoral campaign
Has accepted a 51 000 USD grant from the NEDHas accepted millions from foreign companies such as the yet unsolved Bilbao Viscaya Bank 1998 campaign contribution
Has accepted a small grant which was used on voter education as to the agreement with the NEDSince 2000, uses all the power of the state and its monies to finance its electoral campaigns, without any check from any Venezuelan institution
Is efficientIs a mess, success based slowly on Chavez charisma and the grants he spreads around to buy votes when needed
Stands trial as of last weekWalks freely as all the accusations of electoral fraud are blocked from even the most elemental investigation
Has accepted foreign moneyHas accepted so much help from Cuba as to electoral tactics and organization that it is a joke
Maria Corina Machado has been received by George BushChavez is not only received constantly by Castro, who he supports financially, but has been received by Saddam, Qaddafy and the Iranian Mullas (1)
Sumate wants a clear electoral registerThe Chavez subservient CNE has Colombian guerillas voting in Venezuelan elections
Sumate wants a clear electoral registerThe electoral registry is not only a mess but the CNE does not want to give it to the political parties for them to be able to organize their electoral targets (which chavismo does, by the way)

And much more I could keep writing along these lines, but I am sure the reader is getting the point already

(1) It is fair to note that as an OPEC member Venezuela requires to have relations with Iran, Iraq and Libya. What is also fair to say is that the effusiveness of Chavez when he visited those countries and leaders was excessive, totally uncalled for and unnecessary, in particular the Baghdad junket where the car ride with Saddam driving was just too much.

But even if the charges were valid, let's not forget that the NED money was a drop in the bucket of all what the opposition received for its electoral campaigns, and even less of a drop when it is compared to the floods of public monies used by chavismo to secure the the vote for its leader. Hypocrisy!


There should be no doubt in the reader's mind that the only reason why Sumate is prosecuted is that it is at the heart of any opposition electoral organization. Its efficiency, its unquestionable message of free and fair election in front of the pathetic and shifty figure of the CNE through its most discredited president, Rodriguez, is something that chavismo and Chavez cannot forgive, nor forget. Sumate, in fact, is by contrast the constant reminder of all that is wrong with the Chavez administration, its inefficiency, the lackadaisical attitude of nearly all of its members, its moral corruption.

The reactions to the trial have already been numerous. The Sate Department condemned the prosecution in unambiguous terms. Human Rights Watch writes: “The court has given the government a green light to persecute its opponents,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Prosecuting people for treason when they engage in legitimate electoral activities is utterly absurd.”

There is no need to add anything by this blogger as he is sure that international condemnation will keep coming from all quarters as chavismo takes a gamble on Sumate, a gamble that it will probably pay dearly.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Sumate goes to trial

Originally published here

The judge reached a decision: SUMATE directive will go to trial (see also here), but they will not be in jail during the trial. According to Alejandro Plaz, the judge accepted all the evidence presented by the goverment and rejected almost all the evidence presented by SUMATE. In particular, some of the recommendations made by the Supreme Court in their November decision were not taken into account. Maria Corina Machado said that this is a form of intimidation to prevent SUMATE from keeping their campaign of education to have clean elections in Venezuela.

I agree with her. The goverment will do whatever it can to intimidate SUMATE, which is currently the only effective opposition movement in Venezuela.

SUMATE, BTW is just asking what in any democratic country is taken for granted. It can be enumerated in five points:

1.- A reliable electoral registry
2.- Overall audits
3.- Secret vote
4.- Manual counting
5.- Effective observers

So, if you are in Venezuela, show that you care about your five fingers.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Sumate preliminary hearing takes place

Originally published here

After being postponed five times since September, the preliminary hearing to decide whether there will be a trial or not against the Sumate directive took place today. The judge will decide tomorrow if the trial will take place and in which conditions.

Note that despite that the Supreme Court indicated that in the event of a trial, the accused should be free, the Fiscal in charge of the case is asking that the Sumate directive be put in jail during the trial....

Yeah, right, they are such DANGEROUS criminals that the society is in REAL danger having Maria Corina and Alejandro Plaz walking the streets of Caracas!

27 military masked police officers wandering around with machine guns are OK...but Maria Corina! that's a no-no, she is a real threat!

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Anti-Chavez leader under fire

Originally published in the Christian Science Monitor

Anti-Chávez leader under fire

Maria Corina Machado is due in court Wednesday on treason charges.

By Mike Ceaser | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

CARACAS, VENEZUELA - Maria Corina Machado doesn't hesitate when asked her feelings about the possibility of going to prison for up to 28 years for "treason to the nation" and conspiracy.

"I'm scared, I'm very scared; I have three kids," the political activist says softly, sitting in her small office in the Caracas headquarters of Sumate, the organization that led last year's unsuccessful bid to recall President Hugo Chávez from office.

Mr. Chávez's landslide victory in that vote only added to the troubles of Ms. Machado, Sumate's vice president and the woman who has come to symbolize the anti-Chávez opposition. Machado is facing criminal charges for allegedly endorsing the April 2002 coup which unseated Chávez for 48 hours, and for Sumate's having accepted US government funds. She is due in court Wednesday for a hearing.

Machado has become a cause célèbre for Chávez's opponents and a demon for his supporters. So when Machado met with President Bush in the White House May 31, it raised a firestorm of government criticism back in Caracas. Venezuela's foreign minister called the meeting "a provocation," and the interior minister charged that Machado was a puppet of the CIA, continuing the heated rhetoric that has characterized the relationship between the Bush administration and Venezuela's leftist leader.

The anti-Machado sentiments have even infused rank-and-file Chávez supporters. "She's sold out her country," says Milagros Medina, who sells pro-Chávez books on a central Caracas plaza. Machado "should be in prison."

It's a lot to handle for someone who says she got into the politics by happenstance and that her goal is not to oppose Chávez but to strengthen Venezuela's democracy. The daughter of an affluent Caracas family, Machado worked after college as an industrial engineer before leaving to raise her family. She also founded an organization to help orphans. In 2002, a friend invited her to create a pro-democracy group. "I decided to drop everything else," she recalls.

Soon, Sumate had a list of 40,000 vol- unteers across the country, Machado says.

But Sumate's pro-democracy pretensions are no more than a front for its anti-Chávez goals, say observers. Sumate is "a thoroughly anti-Chávez group," says Larry Birns, director of the liberal Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington. During the anti-Chávez recall effort, Sumate "did everything required of a political campaign. They played a coordinated role."

Machado does not hide her disdain for the populist president, who she says has profoundly damaged Venezuela's democratic institutions. Chávez's critics say his government has packed the Supreme Court, used government institutions to retaliate against political opponents, and passed laws restricting media freedoms and the right to protest.

On this particular day, Machado has just returned to Caracas from a trip visiting regional Sumate organizers, and struggles to stave off discouragement. Many volunteers are afraid of government retaliation, she says, and Sumate's warnings that Venezuela's electoral system is being compromised, including the addition of foreigners to voter rolls, have fallen on deaf ears.

"In many other countries where the rule of law is respected, this would have been a real big issue," notes Machado, who says her responsibilities as Sumate's second in command and as a single mother leave her time for only three hours of sleep a night. "We expected a big reaction" to the warning. "But you know what happened? Nothing!"

Her frustration reflects the mood of the opposition, which is still trying to pick itself up from Chávez's victory in last August's referendum. The charismatic and controversial president enjoys 70 percent support in polls and has a campaign chest filled by record world petroleum prices. The disparate opposition, meanwhile, lacks a single candidate or message to rally around. Some say that Machado, articulate and passionate about her ideas, could be the candidate to unite and motivate the opposition. She denies interest.

But that discussion will become moot if Machado goes to prison. She faces a charge of treason for allegedly signing the manifesto which dissolved the nation's democratic institutions during the ephemeral 2002 coup. Machado says she had simply visited the presidential palace and wrote her name on what she believed to be a sign-in sheet. The conspiracy charge against Machado and other Sumate directors stems from $53,000 the organization received from the US Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy. Machado makes no apologies.

"It is legal, it is our right," she says of the foreign funds. "We have to do it, because if we concede, then the government has achieved what it wanted; they have intimidated us." But, Machado says, 95 percent of Sumate's funding comes from Venezuelans.

Machado vows she will see the trial through. Meanwhile, she is trying to continue her work. "If you're going to fight for democracy, this is something which you have to do every day, all day long," she says.

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