Alberto Quiros Corradi was one of the negotitors between the CD and the CNE on the conditions for the recall vote to take place. He wrote this long letter to Jimmy Carter in today’s El Nacional (by subscription only). I thought it was worth translating because few people like him to tell what exactly was agreed on or not.
Letter to Jimmy Carter by Alberto Quiros Corradi
Respected President Carter:
I would like to begin by thanking you and your team, in and outside Venezuela for the effort made to achieve for our country a Constitutional, peaceful, democratic and electoral solution to the political crisis. In fact, the Carter Center and yourself have contributed with your effort, accompanied by representatives of the OAS, that the signature ratification process (Reafirmazo) would not turn, by the tricks of the Electoral Board (CNE) into a wasted process. That the results favorable to the opposition were respected during the Reafirmazo, allowed for the call for a recall referendum (RR) of President Chávez.
Having said that, it is my duty to question the decision of the OAS and the Carter Center to validate the official results given out by the CNE on the RR.
The first thing to consider, given the history of the process, is that the opposition has more than sufficient reasons for not trusting the objectivity and impartiality of the CNE. This has been recognized by the Secretary General of the OAS, Cesar Gaviria and, I am sure, by yourself. The CNE showed, time and time again, a clear inclination towards the official position, represented this by the presence, in a Board of five people, of three Directors among which its President, who was supposed to be the decisive vote when there were differences within that body, using a well thought out analysis and clean criteria, never, listen carefully, never accompanied with his vote the two Directors who favor the oppositions side. With that legal advantage of three votes against two, the CNE, among other actions decided:
-That the RR vote be electronic
-To buy electronic voting machines without an open bidding process, without them having ever been tested in any election. (The machines were purchased originally to cover the regional elections but had to be reprogrammed to adapt them to the requirements of the RR)
-During the route to the signature ratification process a number of irregularities were committed …The most visible one was that of the so called signatures with the same calligraphy, openly criticized by the Carter Center itself.
-In preparation for the RR, after we had won, despite the official abuse, the CNE took, among others, the following decisions with a clear official bias:
It selectively manipulated the Electoral Registry (REP), moving citizens from their voting center to other regions, including in some cases, to cities abroad. It eliminated persons legally registered to vote. It allowed, without protest, that the Government give ID cards and the Venezuelan nationality to people who were then registered to vote in the REP, without proving their identity or origin.
Days before the process it substituted members of the opposition at the electoral polls. It fired many workers of the Electoral Office of recognized professional competence. It substituted electoral officers in the regions and municipalities. All of them were replaced by people that are loyal to the Government.
It surprisingly acquired, without the knowledge of the two opposition directors, machines popularly called “fingerprint grabbers” with the supposed objective of preventing any voter from voting twice. Despite the numerous warnings that the opposition made to the Board about their uselessness, lack of functionality and slowness, the official faction in the Board of the CNE insisted in using it only to suspend its use in the middle of the referendum vote due to the delays it caused, which resulted in a great majority of cases that voters had to wait up to ten hours at the voting center in order to cast their vote.
Given the above and much more, a minority within the opposition was of the thesis that under such disadvantageous circumstances we should not go to the RR vote. Nevertheless, the majority decided to go to the RR vote for two fundamental reasons: 1) the conviction that the opposition had the majority and would win in the absence of fraud. 2) That to avoid electronic fraud in an untested process, some precaution needed to be taken that would have to be included as obligatory regulations in the process. There were three of them:
1) To avoid electronic fraud in the transmission of the data, each machine would print a record of the vote with the number of Si and No votes. (The only two variables in the process). From that record certified copies would be obtained by the witnesses at each polling station and one of them had to belong to the opposition. If the electronic total of such a record made in Caracas gave a total different that what the opposition had with the records it had, it would be clear that there had been a fraud that could easily be proven.
2) To avoid electronic fraud in the printing of the record, that is, if the record did not faithfully reflect, by alteration of the program, each machine would produce a receipt with the word Si or No printed on it. Once the voter confirmed that the receipt reflected his/her vote intention, it would be deposited in a closed electoral box placed near the voting machine. To insure the validity of the machine total record it would be sufficient then, to open the electoral box, count the Si and No votes in the receipts and compare it to the record printed by the voting machine. (We had long debates about the convenience that, once the recall vote was completed, all of the boxes be opened, all receipts be counted and the comparison be made between the physical vote and the electronic record. Since there were more than 19 thousand machines, to reduce the possibility that, once opened, one of the parts commit acts of sabotage with this evidence, it was agreed to take a random and representative sample of the universe of all the machines. According to our studies, the selected sample of 1%, that is 199 machines, was sufficiently representative to accept the results)
3) That the random sample be that-precisely that-a sample without manipulation whose regulation would be agreed with the opposition and made in its presence.
Here I allow myself a pause to reiterate that the opposition accepted going to the RR with a verification process shielded against fraud. There could not be alteration, without the fraud being detected of the computerized totals, nor could the records be changed of the total votes deposited in the boxes without the fraud being discovered during the act of manual counting.
Well, the CNE violated the rules of the game. It did not allow for the audit of the 199 boxes selected. Only 27 could be audited (an insignificant sample). There was no transparency in the random selection, which may create suspicions that in the selection those machine sand boxes in which electronic fraud was committed were not included (a change in the electronic record). That is why, Mr. Carter, this election should have been declared vitiated the morning of August 16th. 2004. Not only because the opposition alleged that their votes were stolen but because the CNE, the arbiter, violated its own rules and the conditions to go and vote in the RR. I believe that it is a universally accepted rule that in all competitions, if the rules o the game that guarantee and validate its purity are violated, the process is disqualified and its results are unacceptable for the parts that ahs seen its interest affected. This principle applies not only to elections, but to any event, be it political, civil or sports. If in an sports event an athlete is proven to have taken an expressively prohibited drug, he is disqualified and any medal he may have “won” is withdrawn. But if he refuses to submit to the obligatory antidoping tests, he is also disqualified. The CNE, after having agreed to it, refused to submit to the only definitive test about the validity of the electronic mechanism. The manual count, at the site, of the votes and its comparison with the electronic results. If the CNE had complied with the established rules and 199 boxes had been selected and audited and if the random sample had been obtained in a transparent way, the recall process would not be questioned and I would not have written this letter.
Frankly I don’t know if the opposition will manage, now, “to prove” its case. My position is that there is nothing to “prove”. The only proof that we need at this stage is to decide is the dispositions and regulations for the process were violated, without which their strict compliance the results are not valid…and that is more than proven.
Given the above, I just confess, with all due respect, that it surprised me and still surprises me the diligence with which you rushed to give your very important approval to the process. You thought that an audit post facto, after the evidence had been perturbed (the boxes had been moved from their original location) was sufficient to validate what had already been invalidated. The Carter Center and the OAS have rushed to declare that “the result presented by the CNE is compatible with our controls”. In other words, your “controls” did not include the review of the strict compliance with the rules of the game, nor was it considered important that that it was not validated in situ the electronic process by the only infallible method: To manually count the physical votes and compare them to the electronic results. Would you have similarly guaranteed the results if copies had not been made of the electronic record because the CNE refused to it? The two controls (copy of the record and manual count) were indispensable to be able to declare the process transparent and the results validated.
Before I conclude I would like to make some comments about the audit made on August 18yh. And 19th. by agreement between the Carter Center and the OAS.
1) The CNE refused to receive the representatives from the opposition to discuss an audit that would satisfy its concerns about the results.
2) The Carter Center did not discuss with the opposition the conditions under which the audit was performed. I think that the role of the Carter Center was to facilitate a meeting between the CNE and the opposition to achieve and agreement for the revision and validation of the process, in the same manner in which it was done in the negotiations that took as to the process of the signature ratification. If the intention was to ‘save” the RR, a new methodology to validate the results could not be “approved: without the approval of the opposition. The Carter Center was a facilitator but not the representative of the Coordinadora Democrática with the CNE.
3) The Coordinadora Democrática sent an official letter dated Aug. 17th. 2004 in which it delineated the conditions under which it would accept an audit of the process. The CNE to this date, has not answered it.
4) Once again much like in the process for the RR, the sample that was taken for the second audit, did not fulfill the conditions of transparency that the opposition considered indispensable. Moreover, an outrageous fact took place in that to obtain the random sample the same CNE program that was used to make the RR sample was used, which had already been questioned by the opposition for its lack of transparency.
Given this situation, the opposition abstained from being present in an act that it played no role in organizing and the results of which it could not trust. These events will stain forever the results validated by the CNE, the Carter Center and the OASS. There will be no way or manner of convincing the citizens that there was no fraud. The CNE staged a coup d’ etat, when it announced the results without reviewing the process and insure that all regulations had been followed. An impartial referee does not do that, but it must be demanded by an observer if it aspires for the loser to respect the results.
It is a shame that the citizens that oppose the regime of Chavez and went to the RR, have remained with the frustration of feeling betrayed and the dangerous conviction that to go to elections and respecting democratic processes, as mechanisms to obtain political change in Venezuela, are useless gestures because the owner of the force will always steal the results
I pray to God to it will not be like that.