Friday, April 12, 2013

The Carter Center returns to Venezuela

What are we to make of this return of an institution which has been decried by the Venezuelan people from both sides? Mostly by the opposition we must say, and not without reasons.

First, it is important to note that the Carter Center returns as an “acompañante” not a full-fledged observer. In this quaint figure the Venezuelan electoral board, CNE,  tries to get a free pass from people who basically are only there to watch voting day, and are not allowed to watch all the treachery that takes place in the preceding months. Chavismo through its four workers at the CNE helm tries to fool the world.  But does it manage to do it?

Certainly the “acompañante” figure works in chavismo’s favor when we have people coming from friendly countries to the regime, such as UNASUR.  After all, we can translate “acompañante” by fellow travelers…. But even the clearly partial CNE must try to preserve some appearance, at least when these fellow travelers are in the country for the week around election time. It has worked out in the past but signs indicate that this time around, now that Chavez is not in the picture, even the “acompañantes” feel that they can express more criticism. We can understand that: before, why would you form a big ruckus when Chavez was going to win anyway? Today, things have changed and nothing less than Ex-president Pastrana of Colombia declined the invitation in regard of the harsh bias of 4 out of 5 at the CNE. At least in page 25 the CC assumes the figure “International Accompaniment is, by and large, a symbolic form of monitoring”, so they are aware.

Rather than blaming the Carter Center outright for collaborating with the farce, let’s see if this one has learned a thing or two since the hectic days of 2002/2004. For this we can start with the report on the 2012 Chavez reelection (PDF format here).  This one has been used by Tibisay Lucena, CNE chair, as praise when the only thing it really said in that regard was that the automated system worked fine but that the electoral problems were elsewhere, something that apparently Tibisay has not wished to read.

Page 8 of the report goes into detail on the “quality” of the voting system, including a comment on how useless the system of pre voting identification is. Certainly we could have wished that the CC imply that it was used for unspeakable purposes we all know of, "operacion remolque", but after all they do not have any direct proof of this and in all seriousness they cannot comment on it.  We can also regret that tired cliché words such as “social elite” are used when 45% of Venezuelans voted for Capriles, which make you wonder if in fact Chavez has not been great for Venezuela since he created such a massive elite….  Still, the overall view of the Venezuelan electoral situation is on target such as for example examining how the Gran Mision Vivienda  played to create quite a few indentured voters to chavismo (pages 15-16).

There is an extensive section on the CNE  itself, including interesting stuff such as the lack of audit of electoral rolls. Form the text it is clear that the CC is polite but does not buy out all of the CNE self praise, which makes one wonder how come Tibisay uses it as a full endorsement. However, and rightly, the Carter Center does not buy it into the many "crocodile in the sewer" stories that some of the opposition tell to incite abstention and what not.

Where I am starting to have serious objections is with the CC observers review of the media (page 32 on). We may assume that on paper their numbers may be right but it is my opinion that they do not understand the media problem of Venezuela. Certainly if you do statistics alone and, say, include Venevision/Televen  versus Globovision one could think that Venevision is more balanced than Globovision. But this only proves that the observers (the CC people and whomever helped them) do not understand, or do not want to, the root of the problem. 

Venezuela now applies self-censorship, and this is the truer with Venevision and Televen who have decided to limit their news coverage, and all but eliminate talk shows. On the other hand Globovision being a 24 hour channel has to cover the news all the time for which it faces two challenges: constant harassment of the state and the secrecy of this one about releasing  operating data which forces Globovision to interpret the paucity of the data more than actual reporting of it.  Never mind that the regime practices an absolute blackout of Globovision, its henchmen refusing to attend almost any request for interviews.

Certainly, the perception of Globovision of being more an opinion channel than a news channel has some ring of truth in it but if it were not for them we would have no news in Venezuela, which is by the way the case of about 50% of the country that gets on TV only the state point of view along the little softened up from Venevision or Televen. That is a major electoral problem that I am afraid to say the Carter Center has missed completely. Amen of their forgetting on how RCTV was closed and how Globovison is fined all the time while VTV has actual programs designed to do slander on the opposition. How does the CC classify La Hojilla, particularly at election time? A few paragraphs should have been dedicated to Mario Silva and Perez Pirela.....

As for “cadenas” the Carter Center clearly underestimates the abuses made of them by Chavez in 2012, or since he reached office for that matter. Maybe a portion was “specifically” electoral, but the damaging part is that for the duration of a cadena no one else is heard while the regime promotes itself, attacks other that disagree without giving a the right to reply.  Did the “observers” not have the time to sit through a few of them and truly analyze their meaning like this modest blogger do on occasion? did it not bother them that Chavez announced nonexistent achievements in a campaign without the opposition being able to refute them in national coverage media?

The rest of the report verses on comparative electoral system, which I see no point in this report on Venezuela since obviously CNE never pays attention to recommendations. We could even note a certain naiveté when they write: “Venezuelan policy formulators might consider taking inspiration from, among others, their peers”. Well, maybe today this is becoming more possible but when the report was written did seriously the CC think that “policy formulators” would even be allowed to look elsewhere? 

There is an extensive Election Day report which is their experience so I will not comment.

I am disappointed by the final discussion which smacks of wishful thinking of reconciliation as if the 14 years of Chavez had been pure democracy and that we should move on as if nothing had happened. Certainly, forgiveness is a must to recover the country but coming close to suggest impunity as one perceives from that discussion is not acceptable. Too many political rights have been trampled, too much money has been stolen and if it is true that the report was not to address that, it should have kept it in mind when it decided on what to stress in its redaction.

So, what may we hope from the visit by the CC led by Jennifer Mccoy? Well, it is clear that the Carter Center is not blind to the reality of Venezuela. But it is also clear that they do not want to rock the boat and that they have not learned from the past that when thugs are in charge, not rocking the boat is not going to help. Yet, I need to remind readers that it is not the CC that is going to save us, or sink us for that matter. Even on its big stain, to validate too quickly the recall election of 2004, we still bear most of the guilt because we never had a plan B, we never had the resolve to remain in the street and claim fraud. Our leadership then was, well, useless, as it was in the 2005 failure to take advantage of the massive abstention success.

Days have changed for us, and days have changed for the Carter Center who this week has a chance to redeem itself if Tibisay decides to screw us.  We need all the help we can, even from people that many of us have deep misgivings about. Blaming the CC for our faults is not going to help. But then again, we should be ready trash them if they try to do kikiriwiki with us once again by endorsing Maduro the way the corrupt Lula has done.  Times have changed, Venezuela has become a narco state, strongly against the US as a matter of principle. Surely the team of Dr. Mccoy can see that and act accordingly, even within its legal limitations while in Venezuela.

PS: if you cannot be bothered reading the full report, you can at least read this article by those who wrote the report.


  1. This is a very useful and informative post! Thank you, sir!

  2. Milonga8:36 AM

    This is a must read!! I saw a very important interview yesterday in Globovisión with ex president Alejandro Toledo of Peru who led a movement signed by other ex presidents and LA personalities, asking the CNE for a transparent election and demanding the OEA to ensure it. But I haven´t seen this around at all. I am proud of Pastrana that had the balls. Unfortunately, not so many balls around, I am afraind. And sorry for the language!

  3. Charly8:42 AM

    A quick comparison between Pastrana's and Mc Coy's attitude says it all. Carter Center should stay home, on the ground they just play the useful idiots.

    1. Pastrana is right. But if we have only suckers "acomapañando" who is going to report problems from ground zero. It is the same principles as abstention: if you do not vote you feel good, but you lose any claim at complaining against those who got elected....

      Pastrana was right to do because to begin with the CNE should not invite ANY ex president of any tendency. That was also, indirectly, what he was getting at.

    2. Charly11:12 AM

      Daniel, if you do not consider the Carter Center as suckers, then I stand corrected.

    3. Huh? Read again my comment. Je ne fais pas de procès d'intentions.

  4. Ronaldo11:05 AM

    As a U.S. citizen, I am truly embarrassed by James Earl Carter. He has sold out his country and human rights across the globe. Saudi Arabia pays the Carter Center $millions, and ghost authors books that Carter willingly puts his name on.

    Carter can hardly walk or talk and is ethically challenged. Carter's credibility is deep into the negative range.

    1. I agree but we are not discussing a senile Carter here, we are discussing the Center he created when he still had all of his mind and who may have blown it in Venezuela but had successes elsewhere. I am no fan of them because of what happened in 2002-2004, but I judge them on their work, not on their namesake connection.

  5. torres1:49 PM

    You're being too kind with the CC, especially with JM. If you look at their final report, RR 2020, on page 100 you will find a simple bar chart, Chart 1. Check out the X axis. You will note a difference of 100 for the labels near zero, then they jump to differences of 400. Firstly, this is not straightforward with worksheet applications. Secondly, it makes the data look closer to a bell curve, when, in fact, had it not been tweaked, we would have seen an abnormally high set of outlier points to the right, which is what the whole statistical complaint was about. "todo está normal" was JM's argument to justify her stance.

    Aside from that, she had exchanges with Hausman and Rigobon where JM finally admitted to getting the same results as H&R did if she cleaned the data, but she decided to reject H&R's results based on insistence on using unclean data.

    The list of her seemingly ill-intended decisions goes on and on, but I'll leave you with my (least) favorite: Chart 2, on page 101 of the RR 2020 final report. Again, note the X axis. Its jumps (i.e., the differences between each label and its neighboring label) are as follows: 450 150 50 150 300 600 600 600 600. The only way I know how to get chart applications to do that is by explicitly forcing the X labels. The problem here is that the chart is being used to visually demonstrate that there is hardly a difference between the two lines. Yet, when the chart is graphed with a standard equal stepping, the difference between the two lines becomes so visually obvious that my bet is that CC was quite "descaradamente" hiding the fact, the very fact to which H&R were pointing, that there was a sufficient difference to call for opening of a new random sample of boxes.

    There is no excuse for JM. She is unethical and untrustworthy. What's worse is that she seems to have her own agenda, or someone else's, which is based on ends justifying the means.


    1. what reprot are you talking about? the one I have does not have 100 pages.

    2. torres6:09 PM

      Note: it's pages 100 and 101 of the pdf numbering, but pages 98 and 99 of the document's numbering.


    3. But this is not the document we are discussing today. Can you relate your issue with today's tópic?

    4. torres11:33 PM

      Sorry, thought it was clear enough when I wrote RR. The only relevance is that JM's reputation got set in stone for me since back then, so I was merely pointing it out. Didn't mean to divert. Sorry, again.


  6. Carter is not the only one down there. NPR has been in Caracas all week and Im sure there are many other news channels there too. In other words, the global spotlight is on this election. While what they say may seem tamer than what we blog, they have read us and know what to look for when the voting starts and the counting begins and is reported. That's what we do and I think all of us have done a great job. If you don't think so, try searching blogs in any other LatAm country and see what you get!

  7. Will W4:59 PM

    I was on Margarita in 2003 (during the paro) with my Venezuelan wife and her friends were excited (at that time) that Jimmy Carter was coming to monitor the situation. The insipid Mr Carter is the friend of dictators across the globe and he and his center are as useless as ever. I really hope venezolanos get rid the the cancer of chavismo on Sunday, but I am not holding my breath.

  8. Sorry my friends, but if you think the Carter center and/or NPR will do anything to ensure clean elections in Venezuela, you must be smoking some really bad stuff.
    Carter and his center (and I know people there) are nothing but a rubber stamp for anybody "kind" enough to make a donation...these people swear in my face Venezuela is a free democracy, they'll like to see that model all over the world. When you say NPR you mean National Public Radio? (if I am wrong I apologize) but if not, these people are far from being a news media, have you heard their programing??? Holly crap, they are so far left, the only reason they are alive is because the democrats in goverment, and a few useful socialist wingnuts with a lot of money are funding them. They couldn't survive competitively.
    Sorry, these two entities will not help. Lets hope somebody credible shows up and speaks openly.


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