Monday, August 16, 2004

Chavez Wins; Right Claims E-Vote Fraud 

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has successfully fought off the recall effort, and international election monitor Jimmy Carter says the vote was legitimate:
"Our findings coincided with the partial returns announced today by the National Elections Council," Carter, one of the top election observers, told a joint news conference with OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria.

The announcement appeared to deflate opposition claims of widespread fraud in the voting that began Sunday and ended early Monday . . . .

Francisco Carrasquero, president of the National Elections Council, earlier said 58 percent of voters voted "no" to the question of whether Chavez should immediately end his term in office, and 42 percent voted "yes."
The Christian Science Monitor has further details on the opposition's fraud claims, and -- Holy Diebold, Batman! -- you'd think these mugs had been reading King of Zembla:
Before the referendum, many observers had also questioned the electoral council's decision to use an electronic voting system which had not been used in any previous election, and which they said was vulnerable to manipulation. As well, they decried the revelation that a government agency owned an interest in the company which developed the machines' software and had an employee on the company's board of directors. The government later promised to sell its interest and remove its employee from the board, though it is unclear if they actually did.

Additionally, just before the voting, electoral council officials decided that people who had signed the referendum petitions should not work in the polling stations because they were biased. But government critics pointed out that many of the people who didn't sign the petition were de facto supporters of the government and yet they were allowed to supervise at the polls.

Many also criticized the use of a fingerprint-reading system supposed to ensure that nobody voted twice. During the voting, that system contributed to blocks-long lines outside many polling centers. Some voters in neighborhoods dominated by the opposition charged that the government was sabotaging the voting process.

"I arrived at 5 a.m. and we've advanced [in line] 200 meters," said Evelyn Moro, a civil engineer who was still waiting in line after noon.

The electronic voting machines also emitted paper receipts with the voter's choice, which were deposited in boxes at polling stations. However, a number of voters said they have voted 'Yes' for the recall only to discover that the paper ballot was printed with "no."
Greg Palast, who reported earlier on U.S. funding of the recall effort, here explains why Chavez is persona non grata with the Bush administration. It's not just the socialist land-redistribution schemes (77% of Venezuela's farmland is owned by 3% of the population). It's the oil:
Chavez sits atop a reserve of crude that rivals Iraq's. And it's not his presidency of Venezuela that drives the White House bananas, it was his presidency of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC. While in control of the OPEC secretariat, Chavez cut a deal with our maximum leader of the time, Bill Clinton, on the price of oil. It was a 'Goldilocks' plan. The price would not be too low, not too high; just right, kept between $20 and $30 a barrel.

But Dick Cheney does not like Clinton nor Chavez nor their band. To him, the oil industry's (and Saudi Arabia's) freedom to set oil prices is as sacred as freedom of speech is to the ACLU. I got this info, by the way, from three top oil industry lobbyists . . . .

And what seems to have gotten our Veep's knickers in a twist is not the price of oil, but who keeps the loot from the current band-busting spurt in prices. Chavez had his Congress pass another oil law, the "Law of Hydrocarbons," which changes the split. Right now, the oil majors - like PhillipsConoco - keep 84% of the proceeds of the sale of Venezuela oil; the nation gets only 16%.

Chavez wanted to double his Treasury's take to 30%. And for good reason. Landless, hungry peasants have, over decades, drifted into Caracas and other cities, building million-person ghettos of cardboard shacks and open sewers. Chavez promised to do something about that . . . .

So began the Bush-Cheney campaign to "Floridate" the will of the Venezuela electorate. It didn't matter that Chavez had twice won election. Winning most of the votes, said a White House spokesman, did not make Chavez' government "legitimate." Hmmm. Secret contracts were awarded by our Homeland Security spooks to steal official Venezuela voter lists. Cash passed discreetly from the US taxpayer, via the so-called 'Endowment for Democracy,' to the Chavez-haters running today's "recall" election.

A brilliant campaign of placing stories about Chavez' supposed unpopularity and "dictatorial" manner seized US news and op-ed pages, ranging from the San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times.

But some facts just can't be smothered in propaganda ink. While George Bush can appoint the government of Iraq and call it "sovereign," the government of Venezuela is appointed by its people. And the fact is that most people in this slum-choked land don't drive Jaguars or have their hair tinted in Miami. Most look in the mirror and see someone "negro e indio," as dark as their President Hugo.

The official CIA handbook on Venezuela says that half the nation's farmers own only 1% of the land. They are the lucky ones, as more peasants owned nothing. That is, until their man Chavez took office. Even under Chavez, land redistribution remains more a promise than an accomplishment. But today, the landless and homeless voted their hopes, knowing that their man may not, against the armed axis of local oligarchs and Dick Cheney, succeed for them. But they are convinced he would never forget them.

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