Monday, September 08, 2003

SUMATE under attack

Monday September 8, 2003

Judging from the attacks this recent days on SUMATE, one is to wonder what is itching the Chavez administration.

When the signatures were collected for the failed November consultative referendum, or in February for the recall election, the diverse opposition groups agreed to center the signature inventory and validation with the non-profit organization SUMATE (add up to the cause). The daunting task has been performed quite well by Sumate who functions on donations and volunteer work. The organization of course has acquired quite a lot of proficiency and now can set up a collection of signatures quite fast if need be. Which of course is not of the liking of all.

An idea of the work done comes from some simple statistics provided by Sumate.

11.996.066 electors registered as of July 2003.
27.784.948 signatures collected during "El Firmazo" on February 2 for 10 different electoral instruments.
3.600 collection centers and nearly 100.000 volunteers needed for that February 2 event.
2.399.213 signatures(20% of the electorate) are needed to call for the recall election.
182.649 signature forms had to be scrutinized.
3.236.320 signatures collected for this particular item.
446.935 signatures (13,8%) could not be validated (missing from rolls, not properly signed, etc…)
2.789.385 signatures (86,2%) were declared valid by Sumate.
390.171 is the number of signatures collected above the required number (23.3% of the “valid” electorate signed!).
61 boxes were required to carry the signatures to the electoral council, CNE, on August 20.
609 books bind the signatures forms.

The signatures delivered August 20 should be validated or rejected by the CNE by September 20. But before that fateful deadline, which probably cannot be met by a brand new CNE, attacks have been raining, some downright circus like.

The first one came when a state prosecutor showed up at the CNE to “investigate” fake signatures for the consultative referendum petition of last year! About time… This very reasonable request from people that claim their signature were faked by Sumate was performed assault like fashion. The prosecutor came accompanied by about 2 dozen of FBI-equivalent policemen dressed with bullet proof vest and precision assault weapon, as if the CNE were some sort of military target full of weapons… On TV it was a sight to behold, in particular considering that the area is supposedly Chavista friendly so one wonders who would have tried to stop the prosecutor. Well, the prosecutor embargo was stopped by the CNE itself that said that the signatures were open for inspection but could not be removed from the place. Period. The CNE reminded the prosecutor that as an independent 5th power according to the 1999 constitution, the judicial power could not just barge in and help themselves with the help of rather unnecessary goons.

Next day, yet another judge accompanied by a politician came to check out the recall election petition. This time the goons were left at the secret police department. The politician claimed that there were some “photocopies” in lieu of originals. Neither one was shown any way but that did not stop another one to make some wild statistical prediction that a good third of the signatures were invalid. The judge and prosecutor remained mercifully silent.

One cannot fail to wonder if these politicians have the intelligence to realize that it is easier for Sumate to collect the signatures than to fake them through diverse clonation tricks from bank lists… Indeed, if Sumate has half of the evil powers that chavistas grant it, then Sumate has a brilliant future in the spam industry!

Undaunted, our ineffable Vice President kept declarations pouring out of his office. Again Sumate was accused to be a private company and thus unacceptable as a signature tallying entity. As if the Vice were able and willing to provide a reliable and fast signature collection system to boot him out of office! Then, Sumate was tied to former president Carlos Andres Perez, the usual suspect to finger-point by chavistas when no one else is at hand. And as a final touch, the Vice advised the opposition to seek another entity to gather signatures again since Sumate is morally corrupt. Sumate by the way did an impeccable expose of its actions, but surely this will not matter.

Chavez in his Sunday show excoriated everything from the courtesy visit by the US ambassador to the CNE to high court judges. A pearl was his repeated request that all signatures should be graphologically tested, something that of course Sumate could not do. Experts replied that it would take at least 2 years to do a graphology inspection of the 2 million plus signatures, assuming of course that another sample of the signature could be found . One might as well change the constitution to remove the recall election feature.

Meanwhile El Universal published a large study detailing how the Chavez administration is pursuing a witch hunt within the military that dared to sign any electoral petition, even though Chavez insisted in 1999 in granting the right to vote to the Army. I suppose that he thought that the grateful Army would be 100 % behind him just because of that… But all is valid to make sure that in case of a referendum the soldiers know who to vote for. Just in case, you know.

In other words the strategy is clear: no recall election whatsoever: We will try to disqualify the signatures by demonstrating that a few “forged” signatures annul the other millions that we saw lining up the streets in February; We will delay for years, who cares?; We will destroy an efficient organization like Sumate so that the opposition will not count on it if more signatures need to be collected; And we have a lot more in the works.

To conclude this post the best is to translate part of the August 7 El Universal Editorial

The accusations against Sumate and the investigation on the consultative referendum signatures are within the open fire strategy against the recall election. Even though the Vice President claims to act personally, his constitutional position goes beyond his persona: Can one investigate people collecting signatures, bringing donations and exerting a constitutional right? Is it just enough to infiltrate a hundred or a thousand people to invalidate the majority expression of million of people?
We must understand that the government operates with leftist schemes and is ready to propitiate a institutional fracture of whichever consequences, before yielding to the democratic majorities the fate of Venezuela.

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