Monday, September 25, 2006

Finger printing the Venezuelan voter

There are some debates that I try to avoid as I deem them “trapos rojos” (decoys), thrown by chavismo (and some time opposition) to distract people from the real issues. Perhaps the most famous one is the CNE fraud machinery, something that chavismo loves to see opposition politicians discussing instead of discussing all of the Chavez administration shortcomings where they would have a field day. In this Chavez benefits from the tendency of some politicians to favor comfortable A.C. TV studios to campaign against Chavez in lieu of hitting the dirt roads and humble neighborhoods, just as Rosales is doing these days, to great success. Then again, there is a reason why Rosales has become the unity candidate of the opposition and one reason why the Ledezmas and AD and others are left in Caracas pondering whatever happened to them.

But on occasion I must visit these electoral issues anyway and today it is the finger printing machines.

First, in an acknowledged reference to the increasing power of blogging, the recent debate one the usefulness of fingerprinting machine is making it more to newspapers, even if credit is not fully awarded. Nothing surprising there, newspapers everywhere are afraid of the power of good blogging and Venezuela is becoming fast a region full of excellent bloggers. Not necessarily because we are a particularly bright sort, but because we have to deal with such wily adversaries and compensate for a rather deficient press in matters of in deep and long ranging investigations. In particular when there is a lot of numbers involved, such as PDVSA or electoral issues, journalists are not too happy preferring to devote themselves to more scandalous and front pages news such as the Anderson case, nearing its Nth star witness, and no where near completion.

This El Universal expediente, based in part on the work of Bruni and Miguel, simply questions the suitability of the finger printing machines for the goal they were bought for. That is, it seems that the electronic investment that should be made to have a real time verification of the finger print of an elector has not been made. Thus one legitimately can wonder what is the real use of the finger print machines. Miguel wisely does not speculate much on it, but since it well known that I am unwise I am not afraid to thread that path.

Let’s focus on the problem briefly.

The elector reaches its voting station. His finger print is lifted and sent electronically to Caracas. There it is compared to a data bank which is now above 10 million prints (recent ID delivering operations were combined with finger print collection which allow me to guess that, adding finger prints collected at elections, as much as 10 million finger prints already exist at the CNE, which by the way does not come clear on such numbers).

It is quite obvious that the process requires sometime and can be only carried away with super fast computing system of which there is no clear evidence that it exists in the bowels of the Caracas CNE. From bloggers’s work, the time delay seem unacceptable to allow a free flowing election day, with the added risk that the system could come crashing at any time. When one looks at the expense bestowed on a system that offers no guarantees, one wonders which are the real reasons, when the traditional ink died finger seems to work as well as the finger printing machines at a fraction of the cost!

So, which could be the reasons?

Someone made a buck out of it. Jorge Rodriguez, a former obscure public servant who became the CNE head that forced through the finger printing system, lives now in regular splendor in Altamira, and crashes brand new Audi late at night. The reader may draw its own inferences.

The finger printing machines are really destined for some other usage. Two possibilities here.

By careful selection of the centers from which the finger print data is collected, chavismo can figure how the voting progresses. With the help of the Tascon (1) list the government can determine very easily how strongly the opposition electorate is making its presence felt at the ballot box, and how many chavistas are actually voting. This precious information, already available by mid morning, could spur some reaction from the government, ranging from ferrying in a haste chavistas that tend to stay home to preparing an actual electoral fraud by reprogramming some voting machines such as it is alleged to have happened at the Recall election of 2004, with now rather good evidence.

The other possible political usage of the finger printing machines is to scare away the opposition voter from the ballot, while forcing the chavista voter to participate if s/he wants to retain its misiones benefits. This is very simple to do once the perception of loss of the vote secret has permeated the population. It does not matter actually whether the finger printing machines can actually pierce the secret of the ballot, it is enough to have people think it can. And in the country of the Tascon list this notion is indeed very simple to put in people’s mind.

Thus it is clear to perceive where lies the real interest of the finger printing machines: psychological war against any opposition campaign effort. It is thus good strategy that Rosales has refused to get burdened by a sterile debate on finger printing which only can be won by the government. Instead, if Rosales manages a strong movement that has a chance to unseat Chavez, then the finger printing will become a non issue as people will not care to risk been pegged voting against Chavez since this one will not be around to harass them.

Very simple indeed, and yet another mark on how well Rosales is running his campaign so far, refusing to let Chavez set the agenda.

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1) the Tascon list is the list of the names of all people that have signed the Recall election petition and who have since been branded enemies of the regime. Many of these people have met all sorts of discrimination. With time the Tascon list has created a modern apartheid when to it was added the names of all the people that were receiving misiones benefits and thus rated as pro Chavez. This new Maisanta list is widely used in many government offices to decide who gets what. References on the right side of this page.

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