Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The consequences of the recall election result in Venezuela
Part 4: Chavez options

Monday 30, August 2004

Hugo Chavez Frias might have a few reasons to celebrate, but he also has a few reasons to worry. Whether his electoral victory is fraudulent, it still does reflect a few basic facts that must be revisited before we go into what Chavez options are.

The new electoral map of Venezuela

From the precedent post, the reader has gathered that there have been shifts in the electoral distribution of voters. Now, areas where the middle class and educated folks tend to reside vote against Chavez, sometimes overwhelmingly as in some Caracas suburbs where Chavez rejection reaches 90%.

Equally, in urban areas where Chavez was supposed to do real well, the result was not so obviously in his favor. In such areas rejection of Chavez even went above the national “official” average of 40%! It might not be a wild guess to predict that many of the skilled workers and little shop owners might be the core of the group that did not went for Chavez in such areas.

The consequence of that is very clear: the very large majority of the skilled, trained, professional work force, after 6 years of chavismo, cadenas and what not, still do not buy Chavez "glorious bolivarian revolution".

No exit polls are needed there: the votes distribution by itself tell the story.

This does create a problem for Chavez, or rather will force him to take some decisions that he might have wanted to avoid. Indeed, how can you "reconstruct" a country where perhaps as much as 80% of the skilled work force is not willing to cooperate with you? The task is immense and no matter how willing are Chavez supporters, there might just not enough of them. What to do? Forge ahead and eliminate or disregard the opposition? Hire more Cubans or Chinese? Throw an olive branch, and some cash, and try to woo enough opponents to be able to at least make some basic functions operate until you train enough people to make do without the abhorred opposition? Somewhat Lenin did this with his NEP in the 1920ies. This is not a farfetched comparison, all historical context set aside of course! The polarization of Russian society then, with the entrenched Kulaks on one hand and the Bolsheviks on the other forced Lenin, who needed results, to compromise some.

Chavez options

The options of Chavez are quite simple: either he manages to make a deal with the opposition or he will go on his own, disregarding 40% of the country who feels that they have no "minority" protection. This is a crucial point. Democracy works not because there are elections, but because the basic rights of the minorities are protected. That is why minorities do go along and wait for their turn to unseat through elections the majority. In Sweden the right wing parties took more than 40 years to unseat the social democrats. But if Chavez chooses the confrontation path, he might as well get ready to start repression big time while risking utter economic failure.

What is Chavez doing?

Already Monday 16 on the wee hours Chavez Miraflores speech contained promises of dialogue, but irrepressible as always he threw a few menaces in. The following days were the same. Quickly he named Jesse Chacon to the interior ministry, which in Venezuela controls all the security police. Jesse “James” Chacon, as he is known, came to fame during the failed 1992 coup when his commando mercilessly killed plain employees of VTV who were not resisting at all the take over of the TV station. This was one of the bloodiest moment of the 1992 coups. Naming Jesse Chacon is not a reassuring signal. He is considered a hardliner and one that is not to be afraid of pulling the trigger.

Since then the news has not been any better. The "coronation" of last Thursday was a rather spiteful act to show how much Chavez despised 40% of the country. Among the thorns thrown in one of the many cadenas of the day was a call to extirpate sitting elected officials from all town halls and governorship still in the hands of the opposition. The words used to describe these dutifully elected folks do speak volumes about the undemocratic nature of Chavez. He will not be satisfied until there is no opposition. Or perhaps a communist style opposition like communist Poland had with its agrarian party?

Yesterday he called for the Army, THE ARMY!, to make an inventory of all the lands that are not under production. The report is to be submitted in 2 weeks and then the government will start expropriation of unused land. Of course, no provision was announced as to why some land might not be in use, which can be justified for all sort of reasons. And let’s not forget that good use is a subjective term in Venezuela with the new land law: if I plant carrots but a bureaucrat decides that I should plant sugar cane, then I could be forced to plant sugar cane. In the purest old colonial plantation style.

In other words, besides a few weak call to dialogue, all of Chavez words and actions have been oriented toward revenge and absolute control instead of acknowledging and listening to that 40% official minority. No wonder that even the efforts to meet with business sectors, undertaken by some ministers, are not meeting with great enthusiasm. Trust is not gained that easily.

But one should not be surprised. For the simple soldier that Chavez is, an enemy is someone that must be disposed off. Alberto Garrido, a frequent writer on El Universal and a prolific writers of books on Chavismo and its history, had predicted long ago recent events. He has become our Cassandra and is as disliked as she was in Troy for the dire scenarios that she predicted. But once again he has been proven right.

I was listening to him yesterday as he gave a rather precise evaluation of the situation. The “revolutionary” strategy, to use the fashionable terms, has been set up long ago, in the 80ies plotting days. It included a fusion of the people (the people WITH Chavez that is) and the Army into a single "civic-military" revolutionary unit. This is what was meant with the recent orders to the army. Chavez was planning to do that after his 2006 reelection. But the referendum can be seen as a reelection, if not real at least legal. Thus, the acceleration in the revolution that Garrido predicts for the next few weeks.

This acceleration in the "deepening of the revolution" is prodded further by the historic moment experienced by the "empire". The need of oil by the US, its miring in Iraqi sands, is a golden opportunity for Chavez to set the roots of his system once and for all. If bloodshed has not happened, it is because it was not needed yet (although the events of February/March 2004 have established that Chavez has no problem sending in the army for repression). Chavez knows that it will be at least March 2005 until the US is able to establish again a state policy vis-à-vis Venezuela, a bipartisan one that is. This should not be difficult as Kerry has shown at least as much dislike for Chavez as Condi Rice. Chavez knows that this might be his last chance at nailing the coffin of the opposition and making irreversible changes in Venezuela, before the US can do something about it. That is, he has six months to make the opposition, the media, and whatever parcel of power they still hold irrelevant.

He will benefit from a few accomplices. South America has always been slightly jealous of Venezuela, and our woes have left them rather amused. No help is to be hoped from these quarters. However Chavez need for international respectability is a golden opportunity for people like Lula or Kirchener to use the Venezuelan jester for their own benefit. Chavez might play along as he plans to outsmart them. But Lula has other things in mind. He wants to make a trade deal with the US in the best possible conditions for Brazil. Speaking "in the name" Latin America he will carry more weight at the negotiating table, and having Chavez oil on his side (while pretending that Chavez is the one calling the shots) Lula will have more bargaining power to reach the desirable US market.

The conclusion is very simple. Chavez seems to have decided to do whatever it takes to stay with his gang in power. Nothing new for the regular readers of this blog. Garrido is a little bit more dire than this blogger, but both share the cynical appreciation of Chavez motives. But Garrido also added that this will last for only for a while. He considers Chavez an historical accident that eventually will be dealt with, at great cost probably. How long is anyone’s guess. One thing is sure, oil did us in once again. The Devil’s excrement, as Miguel so rightfully titled his blog.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

The consequences of the recall election result in Venezuela

Part 3: Interpreting the results

Sunday 29, August 2004

One fun thing after an election is to peruse the electoral map and see the variations, the patterns, the strange distortions, the local effects, etc... This time I have been deprived of such a fun game as I am wondering whether it is worth to examine the results. Are those the real results? But days are going by and it seems that it will be quite a long time until fraud is proven, if ever. Even if proven that does not mean that Chavez did not win, etc, etc... Actually some people are now promoting the "we got screwed, let's move on anyway" strategy which, if I am not yet ready to share, I do understand why some would consider it. We cannot spend the rest of our lives bemoaning fraud, as even if we prove it, reversal is not obvious with what is, victory or not, a gangster administration.

That is why I decided to examine some of the results anyway and see if some of the patterns are interesting, as no matter what the "exact" results are, patterns might still be meaningful.

How was the fraud made?

Before I get into describing what I found, I must submit this caveat: the numbers provided in the official CNE page do not reflect the results of a fair electoral campaign. They might even reflect a real fraud, at least in many districts. So far, from what one can gather, we are talking of voting machine intervention in about a third of the districts. Patterns vary, from tops to SI votes and excess going to NO votes, from standard fixed averages votes, to Chavez supporters registered in some manual voting districts to use that as show case and justify the "modified" results in electronic voting districts. All of this still in domain of speculation as a definite proof is yet to come (though some seem quite good already!).

As I have written earlier, I think that there is a real possibility that Chavez might have won and that any rigging modified the tallies to fatten his lead. Something went wrong though and some unlikely things did come out of the totals. For example how come the SI did not win a single state? Not even Margarita? This most touristic state in Venezuela has been very hard hit by Chavez unwise economic deals. The crisis affecting the Venezuelan middle class, the increasing violence scaring away foreign tourists, the currency control exchange dramatically affecting the tax free business of the island have together dealt a major economical blow to the island. Depressed Margarita did vote NO? even by a couple of hundred votes? I mean, they should have cheated to make sure that the opposition carried at least Margarita!!!!!!!!!

It is because I see such strange results, the permanent refusal to count ballots (though probably useless now), and not even a hint of self criticism from the pro-Chavez CNE majority that should apologize at least for the long lines, that I am still convinced that fraud was committed. But that is OK, time to look to the "results" anyway.

The result patterns in Venezuela

There is only one noteworthy lesson to take from the results: urban areas with a significant industrial base have actually gone against Chavez, or let him barely squeak by! Where Chavez does better is from rural areas and urban areas that were already depressed before he reached office. This observations, of course do have their exception (Margarita and Aragua states for example).

How can we explain that?

The rural effect. This is actually easy to explain. With his "misiones" Chavez got more bang for his bucks in rural areas, with no work for its people to begin with. In these areas, any handout can have a significant effect on people, even if temporary. Any Cuban doctor that lives with the natives is big news. Any "agrarian reform" talk is good, not because the natives might be receiving land, but because that the one little corner they "invaded" to build their little shack will not be taken away from them.

The urban counter effect. Once we understand the rural effect it is not too hard to understand the urban effect. With higher costs of living, and considerably more personal insecurity, the chavista handouts do not have the same effect than in a rural area. In addition, the very depressed private sector has caused an increase in the jobless rate. Workers know that, know that jobs have been going down ever since Chavez reached office, and many of them also know that the best social program is a stable job.

When we observe the results of the three main metropolitan areas of Venezuela, Caracas, Maracaibo and Valencia, we see that the "official" results do give a victory to the SI, or at least a lower than national average victory for the NO. Let's go and look at 4 tables, keeping in mind an official 59% for the NO and 41% for the SI.

The Yaracuy results

In the following tables, the purple shade indicates the global result for the states. The red the result for the metropolitan area of the main city, and in pink partial sums of metropolitan areas (for example the dormitory cities).

Yaracuy is actually an easy example. Even though in the state the NO won by 60.14%, in the San Felipe metro area the NO barely won! Even Independencia, with a chavista mayor, went below the state average! On the other hand all of the rural areas went for the NO, some in very large percentages.

Yaracuy State 39.86%60.14%
San Felipe50.06%49.94%
San Felipe Metropolitan area49.84%50.16%

The Caracas results

Caracas is divided in two states: the ex Federal District (Caracas Libertador) and Miranda state. Thus a little bit more of a complex table where I differentiate the Caracas districts of Miranda with a green total. When all the at large districts are taken in, Caracas is still far below the national average for the NO. Even including the full Vargas state which is not a real dormitory state.

Here the very surprising result is that in Petare, whose population is supposedly in the majority in the "ranchos", the SI won! The strict Metropolitan area, Libertador, Baruta, Chacao, EL Hatillo and Petare, in yellow, include all the districts that all tourist see first when they arrive in Caracas: the slums that precariously cling to the hills! How come that if more than half of the population lives in the slums or areas like the 23 de Enero, still the SI wins? This is actually a major defeat for chavismo! The Caracas that Chavez has so lavishly courted turned its back to him. No wonder the opposition rallies were usually bigger than Chavez ones. We know now why he had to bring so many buses with people to fatten up his rallies!

Miranda State49.24%50.76%
Petare (Sucre)52.88%47.12%
El Hatillo82.07%17.93%
Caracas Miranda65.60%34.40%

Los Salias71.10%28.90%
Los Teques43.21%56.79%
Miranda Dormitories42.62%57.38%
Vargas State (Caracas dormitory)35.68%64.32%

Caracas Libertador43.96%56.04%
Caracas Miranda65.60%34.40%
Caracas Big Metropolitan Area48.58%51.42%

The Zulia results

Although less marked the pattern appears in Zulia too. Maracaibo has been carried by the SI in spite of a pro Chavez mayor. The explanation is quite simple: Zulia has been hard hit by the economic recession and the PDVSA crisis has not helped. Actually the PDVSA take over by chavista handymen might have brought a severe backlash that will not heal fast. To illustrate this I have separated the two shores of the Maracaibo lake in what one could very loosely describe a the Maracaibo Metropolitan area. The East shore has three out of 5 districts with SI victories, and if the NO prevails it is because Cabimas is the most populated district, and still the result went below the national result of 41 to 59! This weakness of Chavez in the East shore and Maracaibo itself can be attributed at the rather unpopular PDVSA take over and the dismal environmental policies of the Chavez administration. In fact, before August 15, Zulia and Margarita were the two states that all thought should go to the SI column.

Zulia State47.44%52.56%
San Francisco40.21%59.79%
Maracaibo, West shore49.66%50.34%

Santa Rita50.94%49.06%
Tia Juana47.26%52.74%
The PDVSA area, Maracaibo East Shore49.01%50.99%

The Carabobo result

Carabobo is/was the biggest industrial area in Venezuela. The table next shows again the same pattern described above. Only Aragua state escapes this trend and this is due to a popular governor and the fact that its industry is more spread through the state although as depressed as anywhere in the country. Lara state has only industry in Barquisimeto and this one was already touched before Chavez came into office. The Lara governor also worked hard at keeping the city in the NO side. The last industrial area is Bolivar state, but there we are talking of big industries mostly into the hand of the state, so the economic impact of the recession was felt differently.

Carabobo State43.32%56.68%

San Diego65.24%34.76%
Los Guayos33.58%66.42%
Valencia Dormitories44.70%55.30%
Valencia Metropolitan48.76%51.24%

A last note

In the official CNE page the results of the foreign vote are not added yet. One must remember that the CNE even toyed for a while with the idea of not letting people overseas vote, but gave in considering the constitutional implications. Well, the results overseas were an unmitigated disaster for Chavez. If not enough, of course, to change the result, it is fun to observer that the SI got more than 90% overall. No wonder the CNE is "forgetting" those results… But the results are published elsewhere for those who are interesting.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

The consequences of the recall election result in Venezuela
Part 2: Chavez hangover

Friday 27, August 2004

The biggest paradox of this Recall Election is that it is chavismo that seems to be on the defensive. In any “normal” country, a 60% electoral victory would have thrown scores of people in the streets for days of jubilant celebration since their beloved leader has beaten back the challenge. But this did not happen. Certainly on Monday 16 there was a few celebrations here and there, some probably gathering the public employees that saw their job secured for a while longer. The celebration of Monday 16, as it was, seemed more of an anti climax than the wild celebrations of 1998 or even 2000. Heck! Portuguese immigrants in Venezuela threw a bigger party every time Portugal won a game in the June European Cup!

One could argue that this is a subjective observation from a disgruntled blogger that lost his vote. But this blogger remembers very well the gloating of chavistas in the past. One particular image that comes back is Aristobulo Isturiz, now education minister, the day after the election of the constituent assembly, in that long gone halcyon summer of 1999. He was crowing with utter delight that had they organized differently their set of candidates the opposition would not even have gotten the meager 4 seats out of 160 it got (1). Nothing of the sort now. A few pious wishes quickly undercut by the usual disparaging remarks against the opposition.

What happened? Well, the cynical observer would think that chavismo knows deep down that fraud has been committed and cannot be delighted by a victory that they are not sure really happened. So, let’s start discuss why, in spite of all the Carter and OAS announcements, all of Chavez claims of victory, the doubt persists even among many a Chavez follower.

Fraud as the original sin of Chavez’s new lease on life

The thing that Venezuelans know and that has been escaping foreign observers, and even the Carter Center of all people, is that we all know what the signature process was all about. We have it still fresh in our mind, with all its traumas and abuses. We all know that the opposition did collect considerably more signatures than what the sneaky CNE managed to accept when pushed in a corner. Chavez claim of “megafraud” was proven dead wrong and we know it, we are certain that considerably more than 3 million signed. We all remember the incredible pressures put on us. We all knew that by signing our name and ID number we were making ourselves second class citizens. We are all tired of hearing, when not knowing first hand, the sad stories of people losing governmental jobs, being refused a passport or an ID, just because we exerted a basic civil right. We all know many people that could not go and sign, but would have done so. We all know that even if some business leaders or opposition governors forced their employees to sign against Chavez, the biggest employer in Venezuela and the one that can force such abuses in large scale is the Venezuelan state, ordered to punish dissent in the crudest term, term that would not be accepted in any civilized society.

Today, we all know that Chavez might have won but that there is no way that the SI did not even reach 4 million at the very, very least! People are not that stupid. They did not sign against Chavez just to change their mind as if nothing, to keep him in office and have him with their name in hand to screw them whenever he'll feel like it. It would be healthy for the foreign observers of the Venezuelan situation to keep this novel fact of life in Venezuela in mind. It could explain a lot of what is about to happen.

Chavez very own hangover

In the eyes of the majority of the Venezuelan people this is now a tainted victory, and I include many of his supporters. This is the way we are: we can put up with a lot of stuff but we do not like electoral fraud. We became allergic to it long ago and much prefer an outright coup d’etat.

Yesterday was not very good for Chavez. The OAS might have finally voted to recognize the referendum result but Secretary Gaviria was quite clear in denouncing that Chavez had occupied all of the public debate spaces, has filled up all of the institutions with subservient characters, that running fair elections was virtually impossible in Venezuela.
This has stung the beloved leader of the masses, big time.

Today he went ahead with a coronation of sorts. Although the constitution did not preview any particular event in case of a successful Recall Election, not even a swearing in of the vice president for a few weeks since transmission was automatic, Chavez pulled out a big show.

It started with a visit to the CNE to receive his "ratification certificate" (?), visit that he used to lambaste Gaviria, pointing out scornfully that he was in office for a few more weeks, as if it had anything to do with his words. It is popular knowledge in Venezuela that Gaviria words are true, it just happens that some of us like this street gang style to run a country and some do not. Then Chavez moved on to an arranged rally at Plaza Caracas and on his way someone "spontaneously" threw rose petals at him. I kid you not. Then to the National Assembly where pro-Chavez deputies rallied quickly from their vacation to put a show there and "ratify" on their own the glorious leader. The absence of opposition representatives was certainly a boon to seat down all sorts of flatterers that appeared from every corner. During yet another menacing speech Chavez threatened us with a constitutional amendment (which I missed), urged the Assembly to speed up the law to control media "abuses", and all sort of goodies along these lines.

This all in a series of cadenas through the day.

If anyone took seriously the offer of dialogue from Chavez last week, well, now you stand corrected.

(1) In the Constituent Assembly of 1999, with not even 60% of the vote chavismo got 97% of the seats. This probably explains a lot of the problems that we experience today as 40% of the people do think that the new constitution had nothing to do with them.

Friday, August 27, 2004

The consequences of the recall election result in Venezuela
Part 1: The electoral fraud has a long story

Thursday 26, August 2004

It is rather oxymoronic to consider "electoral consequences" when one side claims victory and the other claims fraud. "Should we wait for the verification of an eventual electoral fraud?" Really, not. "Why?" the reader may ask. Because the electoral fraud started long before August 15, and already the August referendum was tainted before the first ballot was cast.

In other words, before we look into the consequences of August 15 results, it would be useful to write down the Decalogue of all the electoral frauds committed in Venezuela since September 2003. The genesis of the problem is in April 2002.

"Would not that be an idle exercise at that point?", the reader may ask now. No, if you watched yesterday rather extraordinary performance by OAS secretary Gaviria. While on one hand he was grudgingly accepting the result, on the other hand he was denouncing a state where all the public authorities depend on a single man, Hugo Chavez. That is, Gaviria went as far as saying that the OAS normal actions as observers were obstructed at every step due to the simple fact that all the public institutions are filled with "friends" of Chavez. Thus a system rigged heavily in favor of Chavez. Imagine that! About time you admitted it, Mr. Gaviria! (1)
So let’s go and review how the fraud started.

In April 2002 Chavez was briefly ousted. It is my guess that a few things did happen in the inner circles of power. First, the realization that popular support was not all what they thought it was. Clearly, a new constitution by itself was not enough: more goodies had to be delivered to rally the populace. I also think that as of April 2002 the Cuban influence within the Chavez administration became crucial. The messy administration from recent years was a cause of the April disaster and Cubans knew at least how to put political order in the country. After three years of observation they had gauged enough of what Venezuela was to start calling some of the shots. Soon the Cuban influence was going to increase to amazing levels.

The big problem after April 2002 was the defection of a significant amount of representatives in the National Assembly, cutting what was once an ample 2/3 majority into a thread bare one. It was crucial to radicalize the political situation in order to reach two objectives: maintain the life line dispatches of oil to Cuba and pass a few more laws, by all means, in order to secure a weakened power. It is in this light that the general strike of December 2002 must be now understood. Chavez was not going to rest until he could take complete control of PDVSA and thus bypass the fiscal controls that were becoming harder and harder to accept as the financial aims of the "revolution" were shifting to high gear. That a crisis to force some issues was Chavez's goal has been admitted by Chavez himself in his state of the union speech, early 2004.

February 2003 saw Chavez finally controlling PDVSA. The oil giant revenues, increasing by the day as oil prices went up, were now free for Chavez to dispose (2). This coincided with the second successful petition drive against Chavez. This brought a new problem for him: elections were unavoidable in a not so distant future, and after the strike and April 2002, there was no certainty that Chavez could win free and fair elections. This is the origin of a series of initiatives: the Misiones social programs, the rigging of the judicial system, and the control of the electoral system.

What was the goal of the "Misiones"? After years of inefficiency and neglect Chavez realized that he had to deliver something. The "Misiones" social programs were launched in the first months of 2003. Of a clear populist bent, even if sometimes perhaps justifiable, the Misiones were designed from the beginning to secure chavismo bases. One thing that is important to realize, and that a casual foreign observer might miss, is that all the recall election campaign of Chavez is based on barely more than a year of Misiones. The only pre-2003 "achievement" claimed is the 1999 constitution. A tacit acknowledgements that 2000, 2001 and 2002 were lost years.

The two best known misiones were Mision Barrio Adentro (Cuban doctors in the deprived areas) and Mision Robinson (Cuban instructors and materiel to alphabetize a couple of million of adults). More were to follow, including Mercal which aimed at controlling the supply of food stuff to a given sectors of the population (and using Cuban trading companies). However the free spending misiones programs that by late 2003 had become an obvious vote buying machinery, might not be enough to secure a Chavez victory if he were obliged to go to any sort of contest. It was crucial to delay any election as much as possible to let the magic of the misiones operate. It was thus important to create a legal frame work to thwart as much as possible the efforts of the opposition that had chosen the electoral way, in order to delay at all cost any election.

The first task was to force feed the country with an Electoral Board, CNE, where a 3 to 2 pro Chavez majority would call all the main shots. This group, named in August 2003, was going to prove itself more subservient to Chavez than even its most suspicious critics were predicting! The number of tricks used through the signature collection process, the illegal actions and rules modifications happening at each turn of events, the inability to secure a fair and efficient election in August once the signature battle was finally lost will be subjects of many books. It fair to say that the CNE has been committing electoral fraud since its inception. August 15 was just the recent one and certainly not the last one.

In any normal country such an electoral board would have long been fired, and perhaps even in jail. After all that is what happened to the 2000 CNE who was fired when the elections of May 2000 had to be postponed. But times have changed, now even public outrage at hours and hours of voting lines only get a lackluster apology from one of the directors of the CNE. Somehow observers seem to have forgotten already the 2000 episode when still some shame inhabited public officials.

But, just in case, the packing of the High Court went apace, ensuring that any adverse electoral decision could be promptly countered, and more importantly that any illegal maneuvering from the CNE would be duly backed. The most spectacular example was the decision of the Electoral Hall invalidating the CNE annulment of signatures. Not only the annulment was not reversed but the judges that decided on that measure have been forced out of the High Court. Add to electoral fraud, judicial fraud.

All of this took place under the very noses of the Carter Center and the OAS. And only now we can see Gaviria finally acknowledging all of these "marramucias" (dirty tricks). It might a be a sure bet to state that Venezuela might turn out to be the political grave of Gaviria and Carter. Oh well...

In other words, any fraud that might have happened on August 15 is just one more in the large heap of fraudulent acts committed by a coterie of public officials working full time to preserve Chavez in office. At taxpayer expense, that is.


1) incidentally the OAS has still to officially endorsed the vote, by the way

2) the production of oil, according to all serious foreign accounts, has not recovered its pre strike levels. No serious audit has come out of PDVSA since 2002. PDVSA has even buying bonds back to escape the scrutiny of the Securities exchange commission of the US. The only reason for the money boon to Chavez is the Iraqi situation and the ever increasing oil demand from China and India.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Modelizations of the possible electoral fraud in Venezuela
Craig, Guest poster on Venezuelan Electoral statistics!

Seeing from comments, and files after files that I have received, it seems that the possible electoral fraud model in Venezuela has awakened quite a lot of interest. Although I can grasp intuitively some of the key principles on the kind of stuff that a statistician should look into to verify a possible fraud, I am far from an expert to judge the multiple models offered. Though I thank very much those that thought highly enough of me to send me their models. I wish I could have been able to discuss things.

For the past week or so I have been playing on my very own model with a friend in California, who has absolutely no vested interest in Venezuela and just liked the challenge of it all. Well, he has done 98% of the work, since 1% comes from explaining him the basics of the Venezuelan problem and 1% loading up in blogger the files, which is not a piece of cake, let me tell you.

Still, I do like it a lot, even if I do not comprehend everything, and the reason why I am posting it is that it is presented in terms simple enough that even somebody that knows little or nothing of stats can still manage to understand the kind of patterns that must be compared. The model has been deliberately simplified for various reasons: ease of calculation, ease of understanding, illustration of the method. I have not posted all the graphs as it would have burdened the page too much, but the links to the different graphs can be opened for those willing to read the whole thing. Craig has even set up an address where you can write him and exchange comments if you wish to do so, or give him information that can improve his model and make it directly applicable to the Venezuelan case.

Let's read Craig proposal. And let me thank him very much for his effort.
PS: the italics are mine as well as some [comments]

An Explanation of Voting Machine Matching in Venezuela
Craig W. Craig4VZ@yahoo.com
August 24, 2004

The referendum in Venezuela has many people wondering about how many matching vote machines is realistic. Many are claiming that the probability of machines having matching vote counts is similar to the odds of winning the lottery. In reality, the odds of having matching machines are much more similar to finding people at a party that have the same birthday.

In order to simplify the calculations, I have reduced the number of voters per machine to 150. This reduction was done to aid in the calculation and enable people to use commonly available tools to verify the computation such as Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice.org Calc programs. In doing so, the chance of a match between machines will be overstated compared to machines where the number voters is 400 or more per machine.

When looking at voters on a single machine, the distribution of SI Votes to NO Votes will follow a distribution called a binomial. It is the same distribution that is used for calculating the chance of getting different results when flipping a coin. The formula for calculating the probability for the binomial is provided in Formula 1. The binomial distribution allows you to calculate odds if the coin is weighted to come up heads or tails more frequently than a standard ‘fair’ coin. The same calculation can be used to determine how frequently different total vote counts will occur when more people are in favor of one side than the other.

Formula 1

If you use the above formula to calculate the chances of tossing a coin 10 times, you can find the likelihood that you will have 10 heads and 0 tails , 9 heads and 1 tail, 8 heads and 2 tails, and so on, all the way to zero heads and 10 tails. Your expected distribution would look like Chart 1.

Chart 1. Distribution for a coin tossed 10 times. [expected graph for a binomial distribution]
chart 1.gif

The formula for determining the chance of a match between two voting machines when only two voting machines exist is the same as finding the chance of flipping a coin 10 times twice row and having the same result both times. If you flipped the first coin 10 times and the second coin 11 times, the chances of having the same number of ‘heads’ occurrences is a little more rare. The chance of having matching instances is provided below as Formula 2. When the two voting machines have the same number of voters, like flipping the coin the same number of times, the formula simplifies to Formula 3. When the two voting machines have different number of voters, separate calculations need to be performed for both the SI and NO Votes. .

Formula 2

Formula 3

In the formula, p represents the probability of type of vote for which you are checking the match. If you are checking for matching SI Vote counts, p represents the population percentage that voted for SI. If checking for matching NO Vote counts, p would be calculated again using the population percentage for a NO Vote. The number N represents the total number of Voters that voted on a machine with the smaller total number of voters. The number M represents the total number of Voters that voted on the larger total number of voters machine.

In the simplified case where both machines have the same number of voters, the resulting number of matching machines will be larger than for matching machines with different total voter counts. Chart 2A below represents the number of expected matching occurrences when we have 500 mesas with 2 machines, 500 mesas with 3 machines and 500 mesas with 4 machines and a 30% SI – 70% NO votes. Chart 2B provides the same calculation for machines with 800 voters and a 40% SI – 60% NO ratio of voters.

Chart 2A. [barely perceived yellow line, dramatic visual representation on how odds drop fast]

Chart 2B

The number of matching occurrences is dependent on the split in the ratio of SI to NO voters. Table 1 computes the number of expected matches for 500 mesas with 2 machines, another 500 mesas with 3 machines and another 500 mesas with 4 machines based on the ratio of SI Voters to NO Voters listed.

Multiplying by the ratio of the number of mesas to 500 will calculate the number of expected matches for a selected number of mesas. i.e. If 1000 Mesas exist with only 2 machines and the Vote ratio is 40% SI to 60% No, the expected value is (1000/500)*23.49 = 46.98. If we only have 100 Mesas with 2 machines we would expect (100/500)*23.49 = 4.69.

If we have 2000 Mesas with a 4 Machines and a 40% SI to 60% NO vote, we would expect 0.28 occurrences of matching SI votes.

Table 1. Expected number of vote count matches with 500 mesas

SI Vote to NO Vote RatioMatch 2 of 2 MachinesMatch 3 of 3 MachinesMatch 4 of 4 Machines
10% to 90%38.473.410.32
20% to 80%28.791.910.13
30% to 70%25.121.460.09
40% to 60%23.491.270.07
50% to 50%
60% to 40%23.491.270.07
70% to 30%25.121.460.09
80% to 20%28.791.910.13
90% to 10%38.473.410.32

Of important note is that Table 1 represents matching all machines at a given Mesa. If you desire to calculate the chance of matching 2 machines when you have 3 machines, the formula is more complex. Formula 4 is used to calculate one combination of three machines, Machine A matching Machine B but not matching Machine C. The probability of machine C not having the desired outcome is called C’ and is 1 – probability of C having the desired outcome. To find the probability of two of the three machines matching, you would also calculate the combinations of AB’C and A’BC. Luckily, when we have a large number of voters per machine, the calculation simplifies to approximately 3 times the amount of 2 Matching 2 Machines listing in Formula 2.

Formula 4.

Because we are using multiple machines with the same number of voters, the number of matching SI and NO votes is symmetric. When one machine has a slightly larger or slightly smaller voter count, the number matches between the two sides differentiates. The greater the ratio between SI and NO votes, the bigger the difference in expected matches. Charts 3, 4, 5 & 6 show the matching vote counts for SI and NO with a 40/60 split and a 20/80 split with 150 and 160 voters in a mesa with 2 machines.

Chart 3

What can be seen from the Charts 3, 4, 5 & 6 is that as the electorate begins to favor one choice greatly, the difference in the expected number of matches between SI and NO increases. Additionally, greater increases in the number matches will occur for the vote with the smaller share of the population voting for it. The difference in the number of matching occurrences decreases between SI and NO as the split between SI and NO ratio decreases.

Chart 4 [where the spread starts to show]
chart 4.gif

Chart 5
chart 5.gif

Chart 6
chart 6.gif

Unfortunately, the most difficult part in calculating the real expected number of matching occurrences is obtaining real data on the distribution of voters and number of voters per machine. Fortunately, as the data above represents, significant numbers of duplicating scores are expected. When the number of matching machines occurs as 4 machines out of 4 machines matching, the number of expected results is very low.

When we compare the projected results from the model against the reported results of the referendum, we will expect to see numerous sites with 2 or more machines matching. The occurrence of two machines matching will actually be fairly common. The likelihood of 4 machines or more matching will be rare unless several sites with more than 4 machines. Even with 500 mesas (sites) having 5 voting machines, we would still expect less than one occurrence of 4 matching machines at a single mesa.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The long process of reflection in Venezuela
The lessons from the Recall Election on Chavez

From the comments and letters received, I sense that there is a great desire to figure out the "what next?" in Venezuela. This will not be an easy. And speedy even less!

I did write a little piece the other day predicting what could happen to Venezuela for the next years if Chavez possibly tainted victory is ratified, or imposed. But I have not started any serious writing on what really the results of Sunday 15 mean. Actually, I cannot start writing seriously until I do some self criticism first. I owe to the readers of this blog, I owe it to my credibility, that to keep writing this blog I must be able to admit errors. Only then will I consider it intellectually honest to write more evaluations on the Venezuelan situation.

What do I think happened?

First, and briefly, I should state what I think happened on August 15. I think that Chavez might have narrowly won the referendum. I also think that we will probably never know because unmasking any fraud that took place will not allow us to trace the real vote, even if ballot boxes are opened. By the time these would be counted, there would have been plenty of time to tamper with a few boxes and throw the process in total disarray.

I also think that some fraud was committed and I do think that eventually there will be enough of it revealed to question the legitimacy of Chavez, if not enough to force international sanctions.

Readers of this page will remember that I predicted a victory of the opposition, at the same time as I always acknowledged that Chavez had a strong core support. So, why did I go wrong in my predictions?

Was I wrong to begin with?

I do not mean to dodge the bullet but I would like to state that my error was not in my basic prediction, but rather that I did not preview some other factors that I minimized unaccountably.

I did write a numerical prevision where I thought that the opposition was guaranteed roughly 4 million votes. It almost got it, and I suspect that the fraud, if proven, was designed to rob the opposition of any extra advantage above the 4 million mark. I also had predicted that it was for Chavez to gather around his core support all that was still up for grabs. And he managed to do so, even if helped by the computer. The victory edge for Chavez, outside of any machine rigging, would originate in the massive voter registration drive made at the last minute. But I will go into all that in later posts.

In other words, I had predicted first a 4-5 million spread for the opposition and a 3-4 for Chavez. Later, in a now defunct comment section from the Chronicles blog, I ventured that the opposition could still win by 800 000 to 1 million votes but contemplated that the margin of victory could go down to 500 000. Curiously, that was what was reflected by the exit polls on August 15. The campaign of the opposition was flawed enough that even my optimism could not accept anymore its wide margin prediction, even though I sensed victory.

Where did I fail?

I did fail in three instances. Two of them by underestimation of the situation, and one by a plain crass mistake that I should not have done.

Chavismo basic appeal.

The first underestimation I made was the appeal of the Chavez social programs. I think that they are overrated and I have talked to enough "beneficiaries" to realize long ago that some of them had doubts about the long term efficiency, not to mention present quality of the famous "misiones".

I did observe that the programs were not effective and did not reach all the people that they were supposed to reach. My mistake was that I failed to see that they reached the geographical areas and strata that they were supposed to influence. The more I look into it, the more the "misiones" are targeted to areas, needs, where the opposition cannot offer anything, even through its elected mayors and governors. Those areas, such as rural Yaracuy, seem to have gone Chavez more than usual. Actually in Yaracuy, the reproaches I have heard about the "misiones" were from city people where the governor can compete with its own programs. The SI won in the San Felipe metro area. But the NO won outside, at least if we can believe the results. Except for the margins, the results in Yaracuy might reflect the tendency.

To that I add that I underestimated the promise that the "misiones" had on people. But this is probably due that the qualities that make Chavez a leader are the ones that always distanced me from his person: I have a natural allergy to cheap populism.

Chavez is a leader.

There is one factor that I have never been able to understand in Chavez appeal: that so many people look at him as a leader figure, even as a Messiah of sort. I am unable to understand why some people want nothing less but to be told what to think and do.

This underestimation came back to haunt me this past week end when I had two long conversations with chavista acquaintances. Both of them do see some of chavismo failures, but curiously both of them complained that the opposition Coordinadora Democratica, CD, was a group of people without a definitive leader. One even tried to pry from me the one I preferred and was rather discomfited when he realized that none within the CD leadership exerted any particular appeal on me. Venezuela is a country where cock fighting was a big past time. With TV and movies it has gone down some, but it has not disappeared. The desire to see a good fight between leaders has remained in our psyche and people want to see the fight before they pick their leader. That is one reason why many will be staying around Chavez until someone comes around and gives him some of his very own medicine.

Maybe the CD, and myself, should reflect more on that. Perhaps it is time to risk primary elections, or depend more on local leadership if we want to convince the locals to drop Chavez. Do not read me wrong, this desire for strong leadership is rather common around the world. It might simply be that Chavez has benefited from it more than what we thought he did. I do not advocate the surrender of the CD to a single leader, but we must rethink how leadership will be handled in the future.

Negative campaigning only goes so far.

In a way I had sensed that. In past posts I had hinted that I had some serious misgivings as to how the opposition campaign was headed. But as weeks went by I forgot this political axiom that negative campaign only works when you can at least say something positive about you. After decades of observing US elections I should have known better. The opposition maintained its frontal attack on Chavez through the campaign, but failed completely to pass the message that it did have something to offer. Certainly, people like myself can understand that offering a more independent judiciary to the country, or more order in its finances is positive and very desirable. But what about the deprived rural inhabitant who does not get his/hers three daily meals? Can she understand that without strong economic growth her fate will never be improved? For the first time in years suddenly he gets the perception that someone in high places cares for him, even if it took that someone 4 years to remember about him?

But no excuses there. By mid July I should have sensed that the negative campaign, no matter how justifiable and easy to do, had run its effect. The CD was making a crucial error not to go to the lower classes with more energy and cheap promises if necessary, even promising to keep a couple of Chavez programs such as Barrio Adentro, for all its faults. I venture to guess that the electoral result would not have been any poorer.

Voila, I have written down some of my mistakes in judging the political moment. Now I can move on and try in the next few days to write on the consequences of the August 15 vote, with or without fraud. I can also write more on the possible fraud mechanism. I have been working with a friend for a few days on something and I hope to be able to post it tomorrow, a relatively simple way to explain one of the possible fraud mechanisms that might have been used. The emotional part of it all is passing and I am recovering strength and purpose.

Monday, August 23, 2004

A reply from David Luhnow

David Luhnow is an author of the Wall Street Journal article that I commented on Friday night late. He was very kind in replying to me on my concerns. As promised, I am posting "as is" what he wrote to me. It is in Spanish. Translation tomorrow, it is too late and I just got it!

Hi Daniel. We are just as interested as you in getting to the bottom of this. What you can post on your blog is the following.

El Centro Carter dijo que estudio todos los resultados de las mesas y encontro 402 votos repetidos del “si” y 311 del “no”, de un total de mas de 12,000 mesas. Mande esas cifras al Dr. Rubin y le pregunte que eran las posibilidades de que se repitiera o el si o el no 700 veces (sumando 311 y 402) de 12,000 mesas. O sea, que probabilidad hay que de cada 17 mesas, dos maquinas tendrian el mismo resultado de o el si o el no (esa parte es facil – divides 12,000 por 700). El me dijo que las probabilidades de que se repiten una u otra son aproximadamente 1 en 17 veces – o sea, no muy distinto del resultado actual.

Ahora bien, eso es usando las cifras del Centro Carter. La oposicion dice que han encontrado mas de 2,000. Si es verdad, ya no seria estadisticamente probable. Hay que ver quien tiene la razon.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

A mechanism for an electoral electronic fraud in Venezuela

Considering the number of mail I have received and the observations left in the comments section, I think it would be good to give a more detailed example on how I think that the electoral fraud could have been committed. A little bit as a follow up of the diagram that I posted a few days ago and that seems to have helped a few folks.

The first thing, and I must stress that, even if a fraud has been made by the chavista side, this does not mean that it did not win the vote. And that is the saddest part of all! They might have won anyway but no matter what happens in the future chavismo electoral victory is tainted, with all the consequences for political stability that this represents.

This presentation is done in three parts, plus conclusions and what can be done.

1) how the fraud parameters were set

2) how would have this affected a favorable result for chavismo

3) how would have this affected a victory of the opposition

1) An example of how the fraud parameters could have been set

The first thing to keep in mind is that we are talking of alterations done to the electronic components of the voting machines. Only counting ALL the ballots printed by the machines could clear the air (first hint that this is a possibility is the CNE fighting real, real hard to minimize as much as possible any ballot counting: if this one is so certain of the results while not just go ahead and count all the ballots and shut up the opposition once and for all with a crushing victory?).

Let's imagine the district of Tucusiapon where the glorious revolutionary leader Pepe Bimba was born. He wants to make sure that the district remains in chavismo hands for personal pride. Unfortunately the polls indicate that it will be a tight race. What to do?

First, examine the vote distribution. The electoral system works as follows. There are three polling stations with a variable number of machines depending on the population. One polling station, A, is in a pro Chavez section of the town. This one has 4 voting machines. Polling station B with three machines is an electorally ambiguous part of town. And the opponents are concentrated in the district of polling station C with 3 machines.

Second, predict the possible outcome at these 3 districts. For that one has access to polls, local informants and any signatures that were collected for the Recall Election petition.

Third, set a top for the SI at several machines. Thus we obtain the table below. We can see the total voters per machine. For the sake of simplicity I have omitted abstention and assumed that since it is a small community everybody will vote (remember, this is a simplified imaginary situation set to illustrate how the fraud mechanism could have worked; including abstention would make the table more complex while strengthening even more my point). The next two columns show the expected SI and NO votes.

Next column is the difference between predicted SI and NO, the NO advantage,used to set the "top" SI. The programmers selects two machines in the A district because it is politically important that all the popular districts show a clear victory for the NO. Then two machines in B to avoid "surprises". Finally, to make sure the SI are happy, as they will the expected a victory in the C station, it will be granted to them but the total will be limited by a 76 top.

total votersExpected SIExpected NONO advantageset topsSINO
Polling station A 12359645625964
151619029 6190
131557621 55 76
Polling Station B 11757603535364
1015150-1 5150
10552 531535253
Polling Station C 1428062-18767666
Results 129263365926 617675
49.0%51.0% 47.8%52.2%

The reader can observe that only based on the expected results the fraud would be undetectable. Polls are predicting a narrow victory for the NO and this one gets a little bit more than a narrow victory. You can observe that at no point there are two identical results in any station. There is only two 64 NO but in different stations, something quite probable. The 26 vote advantage of the NO is magnified to 58, a believable advantage and a solid protection in case the SI get a little bit better. If the NO wins by a better margin, the fraud would be diluted and undetectable even if ballots are counted.

So, what happens when the results are not as expected? Namely when the SI get more than what was predicted.

2) Chavismo wins by a slightly lesser margin than expected

This is where problems starts. The next table show the results with a narrower than expected NO victory.

total votersReal SIReal NOtopsReported SIReported NO
Polling station A 1236063626063
1516388 6388
1315378 5378
Polling Station B 1175760535364
1015348 5348
Polling Station C 1428062767666
135795676 7659
Results 1292642650 622670
49.7%50.3% 48.1%51.9%

The "real" columns are the results that are in the ballot boxes, if counted. The "reported" results are the ones reported from the "ACTAS" printed by each voting machine when voting is over.

The total NO result indeed is lower than what the programmer had prepared but still more than one percentile point than the real result. What went wrong in the prediction here is that machine 1 on station B had more votes than expected, as well as all the machines in station C. The consequences is that some results are identical! The two 53 of station 2 are coincidental, but the three 76 vote results of station C become suspicious!

There is also a NO repetition BUT again in different stations!

In this case the "fraud" could be considered acceptable and the opposition would probably accept it since it also had exit polls that told it that the election was very close in Tucusiapon. No ballot counting might be asked in spite of the strange coincidence. But what happens when the opposition wins more decisively?

3) The opposition wins

In this next table the opposition wins. In popular districts chavismo did not do as well as planned and in the opposition districts this victory was wider. Again, the first two columns indicate the real SI and NO votes and the "reported" SI and NO come from each machine acta.

total votersReal SIReal NOtopsReported SIReported NO
Polling station A 1236558626261
1516586 6586
1315576 5576
Polling Station B 1176156535364
1015645 5645
Polling Station C 1428062767666
Results 1292663629 631661
51.3%48.7% 48.8%51.2%

Now the possibility of fraud becomes more obvious. Exit polls indicated a victory for the opposition and yet it loses the vote. But now coincidences appear in station A (two 62) and in station C (three 76). Note that curiously this time the accidental coincidence in station B disappears. And note that the coincidence in the NO result is the same as before, two 64, BUT in two different stations!

If it were not for the three 76, a casual observer would have found all fine, even though the rigging resulted in an outright switching of the results! And if the result had been a little bit more favorable, the coincidence in station B might have appeared as the third machine would have reach the 53 set top!

4) Conclusions

Proving fraud is not going to be an easy task. However it can be done beyond any doubt if fraud indeed has taken place, without even the need to count the ballots! "How could that be possible?" the reader would ask.

Well, the reader may start by observing that the "coincidences"
in the simple case presented here are for the SI votes IN SAME POLLING STATIONS!
This is very different from the similarities observed for the NO across
polling stations.

Second, it should be obvious from this example that the frequency of similarities between SI results should be comparable with the similarities between the NO results. That is, if 20% of voting stations show "strange" SI results, 20% of voting stations should also show "strange" NO results. If the "strange" result between SI and NO is too elevated then there is a problem that should be investigated. And if it is way off any statistical scale, then the election should just be voided. In the speculative case here presented the SI coincidence are more elevated than the NO coincidence AND have a different distribution pattern.

Finally, it bears repetition that EVEN if fraud is proved beyond all doubt that does not mean that Chavez lost the Recall Election! But it will be a total discredit to his rule, creating considerable difficulties for Venezuela as other countries would stop trusting a government that is able of electoral fraud. And the chavista section of the CNE should go to jail.

5) What can be done?

If the CNE is absolutely certain of its results, then count all the ballots! Chavez international stature could only benefit from such a move.

While the CNE stalls, the opposition must do a thorough analysis of "coincidental" SI and NO results, and of abstention results (not shown here but to which the same statistical rules should apply). If the numbers that will eventually be presented indicate statistical improbability, then the OAS and the Carter Center will have to swallow hard (have they have done elsewhere in the past)and declare that the result of the election is questionable. Then maybe a political compromise could be reached to make sure that the regional elections are fair and we will have to wait until 2006 for the final and decisive show down.

If the statistics are not convincing, well, the result will still be tainted and the opposition will have to accept it nevertheless. What can it do after is everyone's guess.

Or, no matter what, Chavez will say "see if I care!" and then all is possible.

PS: a piece of unsollicited advice for the readers of this blog: if you live in a system with electronic voting with no paper trail, I would suggest that you get seriously involved in your community groups checking on it.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Saturday morning update

Sorry for the lame title but I cannot come up with anything else.

A couple of items.

Chavez cadena last night was to commemorate his 4 years since his last election. It was held with all his crowd. That is, in the background all his cabinet, and in the front all of his governors and mayors.

If he expected to present an image of unity and reconciliation, well, it failed right off the bat with that visual display, a visual disaster that the nice flowers could not hide. I had absolutely no incentive to go any further and switched off the TV.

His speech from what I could gather from the morning news was nothing new. The little bit of any olive branch he might have thrown to the opposition was immediately trampled on by himself. For example, he hinted that Globovision might have a hand in the Altamira shooting last Monday, because "Globovision is always on the scene" or some such sentence. A little bit like saying that CNN is responsible for the Charley disaster in Florida just because it was there, doing its duty as 24 hours news channel... Well, Globo, you are warned! You are next in the line of fire.

That is Chavez drama, he cannot help it, he must always be on the offensive, he must always have an enemy in front. For any sucker that hoped that in victory Chavez would start ruling instead of fighting, well, there is your response. There will be no reconciliation until Chavez destroys all the people that signed/voted against him. Like all the typical autocrats, he will need to reach 99% of the vote before he feels half satisfied.

On other more interesting stuff.

I have been corresponding with a friend that has put some doubts in my mind as to the ability to show unambiguously through statistics that fraud did take place. I mean, he has not debunked the fraud accusation, but it certainly will be more difficult to prove. This is an US friend that has nothing at stake in Venezuela and is only interested by the stats. I will let you know if something comes up from that.

I think that this will be all for today. I need a break and I got a good night of sleep, the first in a week. So for a change I will read, listen to music, exercise, comb my cat and get my place ready as my S.O. is coming next week of a few days of vacation. Long distance relationships are hard but they also give plenty of time for blogging.

See you tomorrow, hopefully Chavez will let me rest today!
Lazy Friday night with the Wall Street Journal

I was not planning to write anything more today. But Chavez decided to make a cadena. I felt like forgetting TV and turn on my computer to check comments. Someone sent me a link to an article of the Wall Street Journal free article section on the web. Supposedly that article is debunking all the statistical theory advanced by the opposition this week. It might even be the one that Rodriguez of the CNE mentioned. So I read it.

Well, using that article to debunk the opposition theory is a tad daring. I really did not find anything new to an article which is rather political than statistical and I did not feel that it was coming hard on the opposition. Mostly adequate comments considering what a foreign journalist could understand from our crazy situation

However I did find this little gem that I want all of you to share. I have cut and pasted from what was on the web page tonight at around 9 PM.

Aviel Rubin, a computer-science professor at Johns Hopkins University, said he calculated odds of roughly one in 17 that two of three computers at a voting table would have identical results. That compares to about one in 15 that so far have shown similar results in Venezuela's referendum.

I have rally no idea what that means. I mean, I think that there is some important information that the journalist forgot to write down. Because if I am basing myself strictly on this paragraph we can make the following calculation:

Let's assume three machines for three lists of 100 electors each.
I remind the reader that an electoral center was made of several lists of electors each with its own machine. That is you were told which machine to go to.
Probability to reach a result of, say, 47 in one machine is 1 in 100
Probability to reach 47 in another machine is 1 in 100
How could it be possible that the probability to reach 47 in three machines at once is 1 in 17?
I would have guessed that the odds would have been 1 in 10,000 but what do I know? Would someone care to explain this to me? Is this "17" result coming from some law of probabilities that I do not know?

I have written to David Luhnow with a copy of this post and if he has anything to add to this message I will be delighted to post it.

PS: not added in proof. Checking on the comments section I read again my post and there was a typo: it should have read as it reads now instead of the previous "...47 in two machines at once...".

Now I must also add that indeed one could lower these statistics by saying that the only numbers expected to come out are between 35 and 65, which would lower somewhat the 1 in 10,000 result, and this is probably what was behind the 1 in 17.

To which I reply that actually if we take an average of 500 electors for every machine the expected numbers are between 200 and 300, which would increase again the odds!

Regardless, that same SI pattern should also be found for the NO votes and so far it does not seem to be happening. It should also happen for the number of people that did not vote, and as far as I know nobody has checked into it.

In other words, if I were to find that 20% of the electoral centers have "identical SI" then I should find "identical NO" in, say, 18 to 22% of the centers, and also "identical did not vote" in the same range. But if I find 20% "identical SI" and only 10% "identical NO", then there is a problem. I do remind people that one has to compare center with center and not machines with machines. That is, 100 aleatory machines will not give the same result as 10 aleatory machines from 10 different aleatory center, which is also 100 machines. I mean, they should give the same result if there is no fraud, but if there is a fraud as the one I have explained earlier, a difference will be observed. Every type of rigging will show a specific type of result distribution. Nice Gaussian curves are only found when there is no tampering whatsoever.

The wonderful things about statistics is that it is the same with each one of the parameters investigated and thus we have with this electoral exercice a great experiment with built in positive and negative controls! Any scientist's dream, but perhaps every cheat nigthmare.

Now we just have to wait until the real experts finish their work and can prove that statistically there is a problem. I hope that I have illustrated the problem in a simple way. However I can assure the reader that calculating these statistics is not something done in a few hours!!!! Be patient!

Friday, August 20, 2004

OAS secretary Gaviria back in Caracas

I am at home today for lunch (ah! the advantages of small town living!). On TV I just saw Gaviria coming back to Venezuela. He had left yesterday, I understand. Now, this is not a piece of trivia. Gaviria would only come back so fast if: 1) 35 people were just killed in a march, 2) Chavez started a coup d'etat and he comes to stop him 3) the opposition is about to call a general strike and part of the Army is taking its side to overthrow Chavez again and 4) a few more of such terror movie cheap Hollywood scripts. Then again he could have forgotten his tooth brush.

His lame declaration on arrival at the hotel was as lame as expected considering the reserve he has to maintain. However, his very first meeting is with representatives of the Coordinadora Democratica and AFTER that with the CNE. I find that order interesting. The reader is free to speculate as s/he pleases. I mean, Gaviria might have come back to tell the Coordinadora that the game is over. Or perhaps to acknowledge that serious doubt exists. What I just posted a little bit earlier still stand, and is even strengthened.

Time to take stock
Before we go crazy speculating on electoral fraud in Venezuela

These are tumultuous day. All sorts of charges and counter charges are been thrown back and forth, not to mention all the people that are trying to get their 15 minutes of fame.

Let's try to summarize some.

-There is now clear evidence that something went wrong, and abundant indirect evidence.

-No matter what people say, all these evidences put together cannot certify that one side won. THE ONLY WAY TO DO SO would be a manual ballot counting of boxes that can be certified as not having been tampered with.

-Considering that the ballot boxes have been kept by the Army alone, many of whose commanding officers have seen their impartiality contested now for years, out of sight from international observers and the opposition observers alike, for ALREADY 4 FULL 24 hours period, it is difficult to believe that most are still in a virginal form as to the safety seals preservation. They might, but an urgent certification is needed and they must be put in places where all political parties can watch over them night and day.

-The Electoral Board is stalling all the way through and through. Any audit concession is more difficult than pulling a tooth from an international observer. One side says all is fine and the other one says no and they cannot even meet in a single room to write down their disagreement. Which questions the existence of the CNE. It would seem that it did suffer an internal coup d'etat since now Rodriguez does as he pleases while even Carrasquero and Battaglini have not been seen since Monday.

In other words we need to know several thing quick:

-The opposition must present by this week end a full statistical analysis clearly demonstrating that the coincidences found for the SI and the NO are way off any expected normal statistical distribution of results. If this does not happen then there is nothing else that the Coordinadora Democratica can do as the other evidences only consolidate this one and decisive evidence. In fact it is my opinion that if the statistical evidence is clear enough then there is no need to count paper ballots: the election must be repeated with manual voting. There is of course a big IF.

-If the opposition fails to present statistical evidence good enough, then it shoudl shut up and wait for a real proof to come some day. Meanwhile all efforts should be directed at contesting the electoral system (for which they can get a lot of international help). This is extremely crucial as the battle now is: WILL WE EVER BE ABLE TO HAVE CLEAN ELECTIONS UNDER CHAVEZ?

This is no idle talk as the evidence presented is already good enough to establish that the system helped chavismo fatten its margin of victory, from the voting system that created such a chaos on Sunday 15, to the sick secrecy that surrounds all the doings of the CNE. Regional elections are coming soon and if the opposition cannot ensure that my vote will be counted adequately they can forget about me standing in line 5 hours under the sun to have my ballot stolen, as I am every day getting closer from becoming convinced it was done.

Electoral Fraud Update in Venezuela

I was contemplating the tedious task of listing all that has appered recently (and it keeps coming! Never seen in any Venezuelan election such an amount of people coming forward with "electoral questions").

But Miguel has done the job for me so I will think about other stuff to write about during the day. Meanwhile until my creative juices flow again I urge you to read Miguel excellent post

Miguel Octavio is a fellow scientist and certainly more of an expert with number theory than the Rodriguez shrink of the CNE who seems he could use a shrink himself, judging at how discombobulated his TV appearances are becoming.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Open letter to President Carter
Nobel Peace Prize
Director of the Carter Center

Dear President Carter

I am writing to you through this venue as I know through my Internet tracker that at least somebody reads this blog from the Carter Center. Surely these persons will be kind enough to forward you this message.

Let me assure you, before I do object some of your recent actions, that I have been a long time admirer of you. You have had a truly admirable career after your stay in the White House, and I was delighted when you received the award that you so richly deserved. You may read in this blog instances where I have praised your actions, and even defended you against some critics that did not share your vision.

Unfortunately your recent undertakings in Venezuela seem to have lacked the acumen shown in other visits. The highly embarrassing moment that you experienced yesterday in a Caracas restaurant when you were “caceroleado” (people hitting repeatedly their glasses with their knives to create quite a lot of noise) should give us all pause.

Before we go into examining how could you, and us, reach such an embarrassing moment, I will like to add that I do understand your basic motivations. Right now your country, and the future of your grand children, is greatly endangered by the events quickly spinning out of control in Iraq and elsewhere. I do understand that your priorities are to secure a stable supply of oil for your country and if in the process you must sacrifice the basic rights of the Venezuelan people, I understand. I do not accept and even less approve such a sell out, but I understand your priorities. I deem them very detrimental to the long term interests of the United States of America, a country where I have lived for 15 years and that I truly love. But now I am speaking as a Venezuelan and I cannot approve your actions. The leadership of your country should have seen the future in Latin America and not in the Middle East.

Which were these actions which have changed the very positive image that you had in Venezuela?

It is fair to say that the decisive point came with the private visit that you did with your friend Mr. Cisneros to President Chavez. The lack of clear explanations on such a strange meeting has led to quite a few rumors. It does not help that Mr. Cisneros, publicly reviled by President Chavez, is not particularly loved by the opposition. It all looked very suspicious for the lay man and already some stated that you came here to sell us out and protect your friends interests. Still, your sterling rescue of the “reparo” process was in all’s mind and we pretended that this visit did not happen.

But now, on August 16 at 1 PM, as we know now that you had been warned not to rush and emit an opinion on the Recall Election, you still went ahead and pretty much certified the election. Even as Secretary Gaviria publicly contradicted some of your statements. And you mentioned your obligations to your wife to a country on the verge of a civil war.

That night serious elements of a possible electoral fraud at some polling stations started appearing. These elements seem today worthy of close examination. Still you went ahead and stated that you did not expect the results to change. How could you be so sure? How could you say that so fast even if you were that certain? You knew full well that such a statement would induce newspapers like the New York Times to endorse the election without question. And yet some countries still edged their bets while Secretary Gaviria looked ill at ease.

You offered your imprimatur on an audit system that was immediately rejected by the opposition. There were clear questions as to the worthiness of standard methods of auditing for a possible fraud falling outside of standard frauds.

Did I detect some of the arrogance that cost your office, and should cause the same consequence on your present successor?

Very humbly I would like to remind you of the Florida mess and how the greatest nation on earth took a month to figure out who had won the most powerful seat on earth. Surely this sobering experience should allow you to entertain with your intellectual abilities the possibility of a fraud in Venezuela, one that should be examined adequately. Would a week be too much before making such sweeping statements certifying an electoral system managed by people that the Carter Center knows very well have cheated at every possible step during the signature and “reparo” processes?

Allow me to suggest greater prudence. Venezuela is ruled by people who have shown their mettle and determination to get what they want, the means being irrelevant. Validating them a little bit fast and leaving the country to its sad fate could come back to haunt your cherished memory. And the people that so devoutly serve the Carter Center could end up looking for another line of work. Peace makers need only to fail once to have all their track record erased mercilessly.

Please, do think at what has happened to us when even such a great spirit as you gets “caceroleado”. If you want to dump us and keep the oil, please do it with more delicacy or you will not be any better than President Chavez.

Sincerely, your devoted admirer until recently.

Daniel Duquenal