Friday, September 17, 2004

Sep 17/04- PMB Letter to the Editor of the Economist on Carter Center's slanted version of events

PMB Comment: In this week's edition, The Economist published a letter I wrote to the editor in response to Jennifer McCoy's detailed, but somewhat unconvincing, account of why things turned out so messy in last month's recall referendum. I have nothing to add. PMB

The Economist

Letters

Referendum rebuttal

SIR – As a result of a series of grave missteps on the part of the observation teams from the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Carter Centre, the outcome of the referendum in Venezuela continues to be challenged by a growing number of people in Venezuela and overseas (“By invitation”, September 4th). One cannot but be amazed that President Jimmy Carter was all too happy to swiftly validate the work of the National Election Council (CNE) despite the opposition stating they would be contesting the outcome minutes after it was announced. Jennifer McCoy claims that they proposed a second audit, but this was conducted under pressure from the opposition which publicised the fact that the OAS and Carter Centre had not completed their original “hot audit” and therefore had misled the population when issuing their certification.

That second audit has now been questioned on many grounds including the fact that, through a set of careless procedures, the observers could have been duped when selecting a random sample of centres to audit. The implications of this are daunting. To disprove this conclusion, the observers will now have to admit they relied on a CNE-selected randomisation model run on a CNE computer. This is hardly a safeguard or a point of control when dealing with a CNE that for months had attempted by all means to liberate itself from any foreign observation.

It is tragic that after two years of facilitation in Venezuela, Dr McCoy is unable to own up to the fact that, rather than contributing to the solution of a grave crisis, the OAS and Carter Centre might actually have stoked it.

Pedro Burelli

Caracas


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Monday, September 13, 2004

Sep 13/04 - Sobre Cesar Gaviria a raiz de un Editorial del Tiempo

PMBComentario: en una forma muy bogotana de decir las cosas, el Tiempo se solidariza en este editorial con su compatriota César Gaviria. Aquí en Washington las opiniones sobre su gestión son algo menos generosas, y me atrevo a decir que no tardarán en arreciar las críticas sobre quien, más por terco que por tonto, contribuyó a la inoperancia de una organización que sirve a quienes emplea mas no a quienes representa.

Desde un principio, la colombianización de su entorno creó una barrera infranqueable, una especie de anillo de aislamiento, que protegía la gestión pública y los actos privados del hoy ex-Secretario General. Hubo, de hecho, dos organizaciones: por un lado el todo poderoso entorno; prolongación, al borde del Potomac, del famoso "kinder" de su bien evaluada Presidencia, y en segundo plano la OEA misma, siempre gris y burocrática. Esto se vio con mayor claridad en el caso de Venezuela que, según el editorial, fue "el problema más difícil de los que Gaviria tuvo que manejar". Quienes estuvieron en Venezuela por "años" fueron Gaviria, Jaramillo y Montes - es decir "caballero y escuderos". Y quienes llegaron al final, a consecuencia del veto chavista a los colombianos, fueron un par de brasileros prototípicos de lo que mantiene a la OEA respirando, pero sin vida.

El recién publicado Informe Gaviria sobre el papel de la OEA en Venezuela es reflejo fiel del improductivo quiebre entre intimidad encumbrada y hielo burocrático. Para publicarlo hubo que conciliar las vivencias caraqueñas de Gaviria y Jaramillo, con las del Embajador Pecly y el técnico brasilero Edgardo Reis. En los pasillos de la OEA se comenta que ha sido complejo unificar criterios pues los primeros habían preparado - e irresponsablemente (¿o bajo chantaje?) engavetado - un informe inclemente tras observar los procesos de validación y reparo de firmas y, los segundos, habían avalado a la carrera un resultado hoy en entredicho. Ambos bandos evidentemente tenían que salvar apariencias por lo cual al final todos cedieron paso la repetitiva y contraproducente ambigüedad que caracteriza este informe. Al final del día, unos tuvieron que remover elementos devastadores que nos hubiesen hecho una vez más cuestionar por qué fuimos nariceados los venezolanos hacia una contienda arbitrada por un CNE pre-calificado de tramposo. Y los otros seguramente han tenido que aguantar como pena por su prisa el que Gaviria pida a la OEA que se siga investigando un proceso que para ellos concluyó a la perfección.

El porvenir de Venezuela seguirá siendo indefinidamente responsabilidad primordial de los venezolanos, pero sin lugar a dudas, algunas de las páginas más tristes de nuestra historia estarán impregnadas por el tufo de la acobardada improvisación con la cual César Gaviria signó su manejo de nuestros asuntos. Quien hoy admite, sin asumir ni pizca de responsabilidad, que "están surgiendo de nuevo divisiones y distancias que parecen insalvables, lo cual es grave porque ya no se tiene a la mano la solución electoral como medio para salvar esas diferencias", contribuyó como nadie para que éste fuese el caso.

Quienes me han leído reconocerán que he sido crítico constante de Cesar Gaviria y de la OEA. Me temí, y lo advertí, que llegaríamos a este punto. Al menos yo deposite pocas esperanzas en quien desde el principio de su intervención activa en Venezuela me sorprendió por su desconcertante falta de pericia, visión, valor e integridad. Hoy, por prudencia, y para no distraer mas la atención de nuestra verdadera lucha me guardo los hechos que justifican este duro juicio.

PMB

PD: como para hacer hincapié sobre su sesgo hacia lo suyo, el ultimo acto del Secretario General Gaviria luego de una década en la OEA fue pronunciar las palabras de apertura del coffee-shop "Juan Valdez" (iniciativa incipiente - y con fines de lucro - de la Federación de Cafeteros de Colombia) ubicado nada mas y nada menos que en la remozada esquina de la propia sede administrativa de la OEA. La ausencia de los mayoría de los embajadores de los otros países miembros - algunos productores de café también - decía mucho.

El Tiempo, Bogota

EDITORIAL
Gaviria: una gestión positiva

Después de estar 10 años al frente de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA), César Gaviria deja hoy el alto cargo y el próximo 23 será remplazado por el ex presidente costarricense Miguel Ángel Rodríguez. La mayoría de los análisis que se han publicado sobre la gestión del ex mandatario colombiano coinciden en señalar que sacó a la entidad del marasmo en que se encontraba. La OEA vivió un auténtico relanzamiento y redefinió algunas de las concepciones básicas con que se había creado en la compleja coyuntura de la guerra fría en 1948.

La principal de ellas, y también la más polémica, fue la revisión del principio de no intervención. La defensa de la soberanía a ultranza poco a poco dio paso al diseño de instrumentos de 'acción colectiva' que ahora permiten la intervención de la OEA en los asuntos internos de los Estados miembros para asegurar objetivos que se consideran de conveniencia general. Entre ellos figuran la Convención Interamericana contra el Terrorismo, firmada en el 2002; otra contra la corrupción, adoptada en 1996; el diseño de un mecanismo de evaluación de la cooperación contra el narcotráfico -que facilitó el desmonte de la antipática certificación unilateral que hacían los Estados Unidos-, y la Carta Democrática, simbólicamente culminada el 11 de septiembre del 2001.

La Carta establece que los países miembros que se salgan de los parámetros acordados no podrán tener relaciones normales con los demás, ni participar en los trabajos de la OEA. En forma paralela, el organigrama de la entidad fue rediseñado y se fortaleció la Unidad para la Democracia, encargada de las misiones de observación electoral, que se han realizado ya en 64 comicios del continente. Algo impensable en otros tiempos, por la reticencia de varios países a aceptar la intromisión internacional en un asunto tan sensible como la realización de elecciones.

El rediseño de la OEA, bajo el mandato de diez años de César Gaviria, es más exitoso en el papel que en la realidad. Si bien la presencia activa y directa del Secretario General impidió el quiebre democrático en Paraguay y Guatemala, y facilitó el tránsito a un presidente elegido por voto popular después del descalabro de Alberto Fujimori en Perú, algunos observadores consideran que a la Organización y a su jefe aún les faltan herramientas efectivas para actuar. El caso de Venezuela -el problema más difícil de los que Gaviria tuvo que manejar- mostró los límites de la OEA para actuar con credibilidad y contundencia, porque si bien logró sacar adelante, contra viento y marea, el referendo revocatorio contra el presidente Hugo Chávez, sus repercusiones fueron limitadas en términos de resolver el conflicto generado por la polarizada relación entre el Gobierno y la oposición.

El otro campo en el que el sucesor de Gaviria encontrará una misión inconclusa es el de las relaciones económicas. La OEA recibió en 1994 el mandato de hacer seguimiento a las cumbres presidenciales que inició el ex presidente Bill Clinton en diciembre de ese año. Un hecho que le dio a la organización una agenda de trabajo amplia y relevante y que tuvo desarrollos interesantes en temas como el de seguridad hemisférica. Pero que no cuajó, después de varias reuniones de los ministros de Comercio Exterior, con el objetivo de propiciar una negociación multilateral del Alca, hoy desplazada por la proliferación de TLC bilaterales.

A lo largo de sus dos períodos como Secretario General, Gaviria optó por una explicable discreción frente a procesos difíciles que vivió su país durante estos años, como el proceso 8.000 y la negociación con las Farc en el Caguán. Antes de irse, y sin consultar con el Consejo Permanente, acordó con el gobierno Uribe un plan de seguimiento de los diálogos que se llevan a cabo con las Auc en Santa Fe de Ralito. Decisión significativa, pues es la única presencia relevante de la comunidad internacional en esta controvertida negociación. Pero limitada, por la escasez de recursos humanos y financieros de la OEA para llevarla a cabo.

Despojado ya de su investidura diplomática, falta ver ahora cuál será el papel de César Gaviria en la política interna de su país en este momento crucial.


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Friday, September 03, 2004

Sep 3/04 - On the Carter Center's version of a botched electoral observation

PMB Comment: in this unique piece of selective (and defensive) recounting, Jennifer McCoy of the Carter Centre skims past botched elements of their observation. In addition to confessing not doing her job because the voting closed late, she claims credit for an audit that took place against the early wishes of the all mighty Jimmy Carter. Furthermore, she fails to explain why if the opposition called for the audit their technical requirements were ignored by both the CNE and the “observers”. Needless to say, and contrary to her explanation, this petty fact was the real reason the opposition chose not to participate.

After two years of working in Venezuela, did McCoy really fail to understand that it was FOOLISH to proceed with an audit in which the “skeptical” side – which had requested it! - was not present? Was it not worth 24 hours of negotiations to get the CNE and the Coordinadora (plus SUMATE) to see eye to eye on the kind of audit protocol required to put an end to any suspicion of fraud? Was governability and peace not worth that extra effort?

Jennifer, in her one-sided article, fails to conclude that complete lack of trust in the outcome – a result of issues she only mentions in passing (almost as an afterthought) – essentially means that we are back to square one in a crisis that has now lost its electoral and constitutional exit due to hasty and careless intervention by an NGO with very funny priorities.

Has anyone forgotten that it was Jimmy Carter, himself, who recently had the time, and the patience, to arrange a “secret meeting” between his fishing buddy Gustavo Cisneros and President Chavez? According to Chavez, Carter wanted this meeting to be kept secret. Secret from whom? If Jimmy Carter believed that intervening in a cat fight between two creepy guys - who deserve each other - is worthy of his precious peace-making time, why then the rush to back the CNE when he knew his team had not even done a proper “quick count”? Mr. Chavez clearly wanted a 4 A.M. acceptance speech to relive his same-hour “resurrection” after his cowardly resignation in April 2002, but what was Carter’s motivation for validating a tally before fulfilling his responsibilities as an observer?

In the future Dr. McCoy will have to come up with more convincing arguments if she wants to say the Carter Center was part of solving a crisis and not instrumental in stoking it.

PMB

P.S. Secretary Gaviria, in his peculiar manner, has disassociated himself from the kind of celebratory account that pervades this article and that characterized Ambassador Pecly Moreira's "saw no evil" report to the OAS last week. The rumor going around Washington is that, next week, Gaviria will release a full report of the OAS’s intervention in Venezuela. He apparently will highlight the war chest of Chavez “tricks”, Mr. Carter, Ambassador Pecly and associates have conveniently overlooked. While this will do little to redeem Mr. Gaviria ("piaste tarde pajarito") it should at least mortify those who today claim credit for legitimizing Mr. Chavez.

Economist.com

By invitation

What really happened in Venezuela?

Sep 2nd 2004
From The Economist print edition



A senior election observer, Jennifer McCoy, gives an insider's account of last month's controversial referendum on Hugo Chávez

OPPONENTS of President Hugo Chávez have claimed that fraud thwarted their recent attempt to remove him from office in a recall referendum. Venezuela's election agency declared that Mr Chávez won the referendum by 59% to 41%. How can we assess these competing claims?

The opposition's suspicions are based on three things. First, an exit poll supervised by Penn, Schoen, and Berland Associates (PSB), an American polling firm, and conducted by volunteers from Súmate, an opposition civic group, showed the opposition winning by 18 points. Second, there was a pattern of polling stations where several electronic voting machines returned an identical result, in what looked like a pre-programmed “cap” on the number of opposition votes. Third, in some places the “Yes” votes to recall the president were fewer than the number of signatures on a recall petition last year.

I was there directing the Carter Center's election-monitoring efforts. I was concerned when I heard from both sides during the vote that their exit polls each showed them winning by 18 points. In my experience, competing exit polls are normal. But I was concerned about the size of the discrepancy (36 points), knowing that both sides in this deeply polarised country expected to win. Many in Venezuela and in the United States have called into question the referendum's result, as well as the ability of international monitors from the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center to detect fraud. Others have raised the spectre of electronic fraud in the American presidential election, citing the Venezuelan experience with new touch-screen voting machines.

Prior to the vote, Venezuela's National Election Council (CNE) threatened to limit the number of observers, and access to voting sites and some technical aspects of the vote. This generated suspicion among Venezuelans. The Carter Center urged the CNE to lift these restrictions, which it largely did. In the end, we received authorisation for all of the observers we requested, access to many of the technical components we asked for, and freedom of movement on election day. Both the OAS and the Carter Center had been mediating in Venezuela for two years and had already observed the signature collection and verification process. We observed all of the prior simulations conducted on the new electronic voting machines.

We planned three tests of the new electronic voting system. First, with the OAS, we conducted a “quick count” in which our observers at a random sample of polling stations (mesas) called results in to mission headquarters. This was to check the official results that were transmitted from the machines to CNE headquarters. Second, we drew a larger sample of poll results from those received electronically at CNE headquarters, to test the accuracy of tabulation by the CNE's computers. These tests confirmed there was no manipulation of the software or data transmission.

Missing from those tests was what happened within the black box of the voting machines. Fortunately, the Venezuelan machines were programmed to produce a paper trail: after each vote, a paper ballot was printed, inspected by the voter, and deposited in a cardboard ballot box. We had urged a “hot audit”, an immediate count of the paper ballots. At the last minute, the CNE approved an audit of 1% of the voting machines. But this was only half completed, because of the high turnout, late closing of the polls (some as late as 3am) and poor instructions to CNE auditors. We were only able to observe a few of these “hot audits”, as we needed to be at other mesas for our own quick count.

We therefore proposed to the CNE a second audit, three days after the vote, to check the paper slips. We agreed a methodology with the opposition's technical advisors, but its political leaders decided not to participate (they had wanted to negotiate directly with the CNE). We tested and verified the CNE's computer programme to draw a new random sample of 150 mesas, comprising 334 voting machines, and observed the drawing of the sample. We put observers in the main military garrisons where the boxes of paper receipts were stored, before the sample was drawn, to avoid any tampering with the chosen boxes. The observers accompanied the boxes to Caracas, and then watched over a meticulous count in which each slip was compared with the electronic result.

The only way the boxes could have been altered would be for the military—historically the custodians of election material in Venezuela—to have reprogrammed 19,200 voting machines to print out new paper receipts with the proper date, time and serial code and in the proper number of Yes and No votes to match the electronic result, and to have reinserted these into the proper ballot boxes. All of this in garrisons spread across 22 states, between Monday and Wednesday, with nobody revealing the fraud. We considered this to be supremely implausible.

This second audit showed that the machines were very accurate. We found a variation of only 0.1% between the paper receipts and the electronic results. This could be explained by voters putting the slips in the wrong ballot box. An additional piece of corroborating evidence was the result from the 15% of polling stations that used the old-fashioned manual ballot. These stations (in mostly rural areas without telephones) were even more favourable to the president, voting 70:30 against recall.

If the machines were accurate, how do we explain the three suspicious factors noted by the opposition? First, the mysterious “tied” results or “caps” on the machines. We found that 402 of 8,100 mesas (each with one to three machines) had two or three machines with the same result for the Yes vote; and 311 mesas had the same results for the No vote. So the phenomenon affected both sides. We consulted Jonathan Taylor, a statistician from Stanford University. Using various mathematical models, he predicted that 379 mesas would have ties (of two or three machines) in the Yes votes, and 336 mesas would have ties in the No votes. The error range would be plus or minus 36 mesas. So the actual results fell within the range of probability, and do not provide evidence of fraud.

The second oddity was the opposition's exit poll. In countries as polarised as Venezuela, exit polls are risky. They require those conducting them to avoid bias in choosing whom to query, to avoid socio-economic bias in their dress and speech, and to work in a wide variety of neighbourhoods. They also require voters to tell the truth—despite intimidation and strong peer pressure on both sides. Any of these elements could have been lacking.

Puzzles and explanations

The third puzzle was places with fewer Yes voters than signers of the recall petition. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people who were expected to vote Yes in fact voted No. Overall, more people (almost 4m) voted to recall the president than signed the petition last November (3.4m). But some of the signers might have supported a recall as a democratic right, while themselves not wanting to remove the president. Some may have changed their minds since November. And some may have decided that Chavismo in government was more likely to preserve the peace than Chavismo in opposition.

Two other factors help to explain the result. First, reputable polls showed Mr Chávez climbing in the months before the vote; three weeks before, he had a nine-point lead among likely voters. Opposition leaders and pollsters told me before-hand that a high turn-out was expected to favour Mr Chávez. The turn-out was a high 70%, compared with an average in previous elections of 55%.

The second factor (which helps to explain the first) was that delays in the collection and verification of signatures gave time for the economy to recover from the previous year's devastating strike. Mr Chávez campaigned tirelessly and spent large sums from record oil revenues on social programmes for the poor. The government also naturalised long-waiting immigrants and registered up to 2m new voters. In contrast, the opposition ran a lacklustre campaign, did not present a clear alternative leader, and could not compete with the government's resources.

In conclusion, the vote itself was secret and free, but the CNE's lack of openness, last-minute changes and internal divisions harmed public confidence in that vital institution both before and after the vote. Divisive rhetoric and intimidating tactics from Chavistas, and the opposition's still-unsubstantiated claims of fraud, have exacerbated Venezuelans' cynicism toward elections. It will take a huge effort by both sides to restore trust in this fundamental democratic right before next month's election for governors and mayors.


Jennifer McCoy directed the Carter Center's observer mission in Venezuela and is a Latin America expert at Georgia State University in Atlanta.





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