Over twenty years ago a reporter took me and four friends to almost every Venezuelan TV talk show in existence. We were young and somewhat nervous about the whole experience, so she suggested essentially ignoring the questions and just prepare what we wanted to say and simply start answering questions and quickly twist our answer to fit whatever it was that we wanted to say.
There is an analogy to this in a very well known joke in Spanish about the little kid who only studies the Phoenicians for his world history oral exam. No matter what he is asked, his answer will always somehow tie the part of history he is asked about to that of the Phoenicians, at which point he will relate verbatim all the knowledge he has acquired about them.
These stories come to mind after watching again the outraged words of CNE President Carrasquero and reading Caracas Chronicles’ article on Article 31 of the rules for recall referenda. In FT’s translation Art. 31 simply says:
“…electors who allege that they did not sign the petition form may go to the National Electoral Council to petition their immediate exclusion from the signature tally…”
This is fairly straight forward. If there was an error you may go to have your signature included or “repararla” and if you did not sign, Art. 31 says in unequivocal and simple terms that you may go and exclude your signature. There are no alternative options or interpretations to Art. 31 like the pro-Chavez CNE Directors have intended to do in order to allow the Government to pressure Government workers and contractors to withdraw their signatures. The outrage with which both CNE President Carrasquero and Director Jorge Rodriguez asked the OAS and the Carter Center to retract, is simply proof of their cynicism and of the fact that they are not fair minded and the last thing in their minds is to allow the electors to express their will.
But going back to my original story, what I do not understand is why the Coordinadora Democrática does not implement its own version of the Phoenicians strategy. They should all memorize Art. 31 and no matter what they are asked on TV, the press or the radio, always answer by first reminding everyone that withdrawing your signature if you did sign is simply not a legal option and quote Art. 31 word by word for emphasis.
I am sure that if all major politicians did this for the next two weeks, every Venezuelan that participated in the Reafirmazo in November would hear it a few times and understand it, making the Government’s campaign to intimidate fail completely. In fact, the Chavistas have used this same technique to make lies become true, changing history, simply by having everyone around Chavez repeat and parrot, over and over, their version of the truth, however farfetched or distorted it may be.
I really do not expect large number of people to go and withdraw their signature later this month, but the opposition needs the widest possible margin of success in having people ratify their signatures in order to deflect and block any new attempt at cheating by the CNE and the Government. You all should do the same, memorize it, discuss it, argue about it at every chance. Each signature counts and in fact, Art. 31 is much simpler and shorter than learning all about the Phoenicians.