Emory Report
October 25, 2004
Volume 57, Number 9


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October 25 , 2004
Carter Center urges acceptance of Venezuela vote

Kay Torrance is assistant director for public information at the carter center

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won an August recall referendum to complete his term, but reconciling his supporters and opponents remains a goal after two years of contentious relations mediated by the Carter Center and the Organization of American States (OAS).

“The referendum was an important step in the democratic process,” said Jennifer McCoy, director of the center’s Americas Program. “Now the larger, more serious issue that the government and opposition need to address is how to work together for the benefit of Venezuela.

“The government should reach out to its opponents to create a national vision for the country and ensure all Venezuelans feel represented,” McCoy continued. “More immediately, both sides must work toward restoring public confidence and trust in the electoral process.”

The referendum—the world’s first recall vote of a president—culminated a process put in motion in November 2003, when Chavez’s opponents began collecting a new set of signatures to petition for the recall. Over a period of 10 months, the center and the OAS observed the signature collections, the National Electoral Council’s signature validation process, the signature verifications and the referendum.

“Though the vote was secret and free—verified through several post-referendum checks by the center and the OAS,” McCoy said, “the opposition’s claims of fraud, intimidation tactics by government supporters and opaque decisions by the National Electoral Council (NEC) eroded faith in the recall outcome.”

As the polls closed on Aug. 15, Carter Center and OAS observers conducted a “quick count” of randomly selected polling sites to verify that the on-site vote tallies they saw matched those transmitted from the electronic voting machines to CNE headquarters. The quick count matched the CNE’s results, which indicated almost 60 percent of voters cast their ballots to keep Chavez in power, and showed no manipulation of the data transmission or tabulation. A third check (recounting a sample of paper ballots that print after each vote) also did not show any fraud.

Before observers, including former President Jimmy Carter, arrived for the referendum, the center’s office in Venezuela’s capital of Caracas observed trial runs of the voting machines conducted by the CNE and met with the political forces, technical directors of all components of the automated voting processes, the media, the armed forces and other key groups.

After the referendum result was announced by the CNE, Carter and OAS Secretary General César Gaviria held a press conference to announce their findings and to urge a peaceful acceptance of the results by both sides. They also called for reconciliation talks between the government and the opposition.

“There needs to be good-faith acceptance of the results by both winners and losers, and some degree of reconciliation,” Carter said. “When distrust or disharmony is deep—as it is in Venezuela—it is necessary to establish a continuing dialogue between the government and the opposition leaders.”

Away from Caracas politics, in small communities across Venezuela, Carter Center trainers continue to teach mediation skills necessary for various sectors of society to coexist.