Now that I have given an early conclusion to this post, I can go into the details. First a brief history of Sumate and then a comparative table of the charges brought against Sumate and the government own electoral misdeeds. The reader will be able to decide on its own which one of the two should sit on the accused bench.
SUMATE is a civil society organization, an NGO, which started as a group of young professionals seeking to help citizens demand their right to clean and fair elections. Already the Carter Center itself declared the 2000 elections flawed (though it seems to have forgotten its own words of 2000 in August 2004). The nature of the political process in Venezuela where the chavista legal steam roller started crushing any opposition attempt at obtaining redress through the ballot box made Sumate associated with the opposition parties, though some of its services could have been used by both sides.
Sumate was established sometime mid 2002 as the organization to manage the first signature gathering petition to take place. This one was the Consultative Referendum who gathered with a speed that surprised both opposition and government more than the 10% necessary for a consultative referendum as to whether Chavez should resign from office. That initiative which was received by the Electoral Board of Venezuela, CNE, under a rain of tear gas in November 2002, never prospered since by a legal trick it was declared non acceptable. However we shall see that the people who signed that supposedly illegal drive would suffer its consequences anyway.
The success of Sumate then made it the one coordinating the effort for the firmazo, that February 2003 signature drive that collected without any problem the 20% needed to ask for a Recall Election on Chavez. Again, thanks to legal tricks and the complacency of the Carter Center and OAS (and myopia of the opposition leadership) that collection was annulled. And again those who signed would still be punished for that exercise of their civil right to petition.
Once the agreement of June 2003 where signed, Sumate was again called to service to coordinate the December final petition drive to call for a Recall Election. But then things had become more complicated as the government had shown its true undemocratic color as it threatened to make good use of the fact that the names of the people that would sign would be known, made public. For example the Significant Other of this blogger, a public employee in a ministry, and fervent anti Chavez, decided not to sign that petition, with the agreement of this blogger who did sign as less subject to prosecution. Thus the beginning of the rendering of families and friends who many times could not understand why some did or did not sign.
But the Chavez administration came up with even more tricks (in spite of the now infamous "no tricks" of ex-president Carter). A large amount of signatures were declared void on shaky grounds and Sumate again had to show its efficiency by organizing a "repair" process that was successful in spite of now an outright frontal attack from the government. By then the people knew that the Chavez administration had established a list of people who had signed in all the previous signature collection. That list, embodied in one of its incarnations as the Tascon list from assemblyman Luis Tascon web page where one could check out anyone's ID number to see if that person had signed "against Chavez" was used to fire public employees and deny services from the state such as passports and ID card emission, or filter who would get a contract or a job for governmental work. Truly, a new apartheid that is still in application today as I write, and which is well documented for the fascist list it is and that is been decried overseas more and more.
But now Sumate was itself under attack as the government claimed that it had illegally received funds from the National Endowment for Democracy, NED. First the accusation is shaky even on Venezuelan legal grounds. Second the NED finances all sorts of NGO, even in Venezuela (curiously Sumate is the only one prosecuted...). And third it does not make any mystery of it, being a congressional organization which is controlled in a bipartisan manner by the US Congress. Sumate has on one of its web page the copy of the NED agreement if anyone cares to read it. As early as November 4th, The Economist was writing that under the manipulated Venezuelan judicial system, a Sumate trial could only be seen as a political prosecution. The Economist is only one of the many folks making the easy connection.
The trial that is opening against 4 of Sumate's directors has been maturing for over a year as it has been difficult for the government to make a case. First, on a public relations front, the hoped for departure to exile of Sumate's leaders has not happened as they have courageously not only stayed in Venezuela, but even left for short trips and came back each time. Second Maria Corina Machado has been received at the White House by President Bush, the only Venezuelan figure that has been received at the White House since Chavez came to office in 1998.
Summary of the charges
|What Sumate is, does, represents...||What chavismo is, does, represent...|
|Is an NGO who organizes efficiently some of the electoral needs of the opposition parties||All rely on chavismo hold on the government levers, such as the CNE and the effect of the executive power to manage any electoral campaign|
|Has accepted a 51 000 USD grant from the NED||Has accepted millions from foreign companies such as the yet unsolved Bilbao Viscaya Bank 1998 campaign contribution|
|Has accepted a small grant which was used on voter education as to the agreement with the NED||Since 2000, uses all the power of the state and its monies to finance its electoral campaigns, without any check from any Venezuelan institution|
|Is efficient||Is a mess, success based slowly on Chavez charisma and the grants he spreads around to buy votes when needed|
|Stands trial as of last week||Walks freely as all the accusations of electoral fraud are blocked from even the most elemental investigation|
|Has accepted foreign money||Has accepted so much help from Cuba as to electoral tactics and organization that it is a joke|
|Maria Corina Machado has been received by George Bush||Chavez is not only received constantly by Castro, who he supports financially, but has been received by Saddam, Qaddafy and the Iranian Mullas (1)|
|Sumate wants a clear electoral register||The Chavez subservient CNE has Colombian guerillas voting in Venezuelan elections|
|Sumate wants a clear electoral register||The electoral registry is not only a mess but the CNE does not want to give it to the political parties for them to be able to organize their electoral targets (which chavismo does, by the way)|
And much more I could keep writing along these lines, but I am sure the reader is getting the point already
(1) It is fair to note that as an OPEC member Venezuela requires to have relations with Iran, Iraq and Libya. What is also fair to say is that the effusiveness of Chavez when he visited those countries and leaders was excessive, totally uncalled for and unnecessary, in particular the Baghdad junket where the car ride with Saddam driving was just too much.
But even if the charges were valid, let's not forget that the NED money was a drop in the bucket of all what the opposition received for its electoral campaigns, and even less of a drop when it is compared to the floods of public monies used by chavismo to secure the the vote for its leader. Hypocrisy!
There should be no doubt in the reader's mind that the only reason why Sumate is prosecuted is that it is at the heart of any opposition electoral organization. Its efficiency, its unquestionable message of free and fair election in front of the pathetic and shifty figure of the CNE through its most discredited president, Rodriguez, is something that chavismo and Chavez cannot forgive, nor forget. Sumate, in fact, is by contrast the constant reminder of all that is wrong with the Chavez administration, its inefficiency, the lackadaisical attitude of nearly all of its members, its moral corruption.
The reactions to the trial have already been numerous. The Sate Department condemned the prosecution in unambiguous terms. Human Rights Watch writes: “The court has given the government a green light to persecute its opponents,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Prosecuting people for treason when they engage in legitimate electoral activities is utterly absurd.”
There is no need to add anything by this blogger as he is sure that international condemnation will keep coming from all quarters as chavismo takes a gamble on Sumate, a gamble that it will probably pay dearly.