Sunday, December 03, 2006


by Alex Beech

I'll finish on this historical day by reporting that Manuel Rosales conceded defeat earlier tonight. He claimed the margin released by the CNE was a lie, but didn't elaborate further. I find it ironic that as two icons of Latin American politics, Castro on the left and Pinochet on the right, are dead or dying, Hugo Chavez is elected to the presidency again. When I get sleep and distance from this, I'll figure it what that means. God bless everyone, and thanks for visiting us today!

9:05 pm - In its first bulletin, the CNE announced that Chavez won the election with 61.35% while Rosales obtained 38.39%.

8:00 pm est. - An hour ago, Reuters reported that "Chavez won 58 percent of the vote, while Manuel Rosales, governor of an oil-producing province, trailed with 40 percent, said Evans/McDonough Co., a U.S. pollster commissioned by the state oil company." This isn't the last word. Rumors are swirling around like stinky laundry water. Both sides are celebrating; some are claiming that a curfew is imminent. Rosales is expected to make a statement.


8:00 pm est. - Two members of the Rosales camp denounced in the local media that Caracas-based Telesur, a government-financed news network, announced figures giving Chavez a victory. While Chavez has warned the private media that it would face repercussions if it released elections figures before the National Elections, a government-financed network violated electoral norms. The figures were announced by Telesur president and former Information Minister Andres Izarra, a former journalist who gained political prominence in the Chavez government after claiming that the Puente Llaguno shooters were not aiming at opposition protestors on April 11, 2002.

Information Minister Willian Lara, who arrived moments ago at the electoral council, said that he wasn’t there “as Information Minister, but as a Venezuelan citizen and an activist for the campaign of Hugo Chavez…I want to say on behalf of the Miranda campaign that it’s false that centers have been forced to re-open, violating electoral laws.” Despite credible reports by electoral observers that armed soldiers had forced centers to re-open , Minister Lara insisted that the Chavez campaign camp had not organized illegal voting efforts. “Tomorrow, at 8 am, I’ll be a government official again,” said Lara. “For now, I’m a citizen and a political activist.”

7:20 pm est. In perhaps the first credible report of irregularities by an accredited electoral observer, Education Assembly member Leonardo Carvajal said two electoral officials had authorized him to denounce in the media that at several voting centers, armed members of the National Armed Forces had forced electoral workers to keep centers open. At one center, a soldier bearing a machine gun ordered the center to remain open until 9 pm, violating electoral laws.


6:55 pm est. Speaking on behalf of opposition candidate Manuel Rosales, Tal Cual Editor Teodoro Petkoff, said that while the electoral day proceeded peacefully, questionable incidents had taken place after official voting, such as attempts to impede audits and to remove the voting materials illegally. Petkoff said that “centers which have been closed must remain closed. They cannot be reopened.” He called on the National Elections Council and the National Armed Forces to enforce the law, protecting “voters’ rights.” He said “the auditing process is slow…patience is required.”


6:05 pm est. Alex's opinion: If the complaints of irregularities keep pouring in, (and they are, at least on Globovision), it is likely that the Rosales camp won't accept a result that favors the government. No matter how much the electoral authorities and government spin the day, many questionable incidents are being reported.


5:55 pm est. - Reading off a list of voting centers, Rosales campaign representative Eliseo Fermin said that members of the National Armed Forces at several centers violated electoral laws by re-opening centers once they had closed. Earlier, CNE chief Tibisay Lucena said that once centers had closed, voting could not resume. Fermin told reporters that buses (some military) had arrived at several closed centers in Caracas carrying voters. Threatened by armed soldiers, electoral workers re-opened the centers to allow the arriving voters to cast their ballots. Addressing the complaints, electoral official Vicente Diaz said that "everything is the country."


4:40 pm est. - Enrique Marquez, a member of the Rosales campaign, denounced on television that soldiers at several voting centers had refused to allow electoral authorities to close them despite a lack of voters. CNE chief Tibisay Lucena earlier announced that, according to electoral laws, empty voting centers must close at 4 pm.

4:10 pm est. - During a press conference at the National Elections Council (CNE) at 5:10 pm, CNE chief Tibisay Lucena said that the voting process had officially “culminated." She said that one thousand centers were already transmitting results. She said that once a center had been closed, voting could not resume. She reminded the heads of centers to remain at the centers to wait for the random selection of ballots for audits. She reminded the soldiers guarding the centers to stay for the remainder of the process. Addressing a reporter's question, she said that she didn’t know what percentage of registered voters participated in the election. Regarding complaints, she said the CNE received a “great number” of complaints regarding the process, which she claimed had been addressed for the most part. She said that the CNE was prohibited from issuing briefings while the vote was taking place. She added that at 9:30 am, 99% of centers were open, and by 10 am, 100% were open. She said she didn’t know yet what percentage of voting machines malfunctioned during the vote. Concerning a question by the Associated Press concerning malfunctions in the fingerprint detection technology, she denied that any problems surfaced with the new technology itself. She said the problem was based on the fact that “a lot of people voted.” She denied any problems with the voting machines, alluding earlier complaints that some paper ballots were blank.


3:40 pm est. - During a press conference at the National Armed Forces, General Wilfredo Silva said that the election a success. He said that by 8 am, voting centers around the country were prepared for the vote, breaking a record. He confirmed the arrest of one soldier in Valencia who was wanted by the authorities, though he didn’t provide further details. Concerning reports that Colombians were crossing the border, he said “security at the borders, air space, and seas hasn’t changed. Things have evolved normally, with a slight increase in security.” He said that “small incidents” had taken place at several centers, including people who tried to vote several times, and two people who destroyed voting machines. He said that several were detained for breaking machines and tearing up their electoral ballots. He confirmed that men on motorcycles wearing pro-Chavez shirts had ridden by centers intimidating voters. He said that he’d spoken to leaders from both camps to address that issue. He said he’d enjoyed a “courtesy” visit from Chavez and his family. Addressing a question regarding the closure of a center where voters were stills standing in line, he clarified that voting stations within centers may close, but that “As long as people are standing in line, voting centers must remain open”. He said that the so-called Plan Republica will function while voting continues. He added that once an audit has taken place, ballot boxes will be handed over to the National Armed Forces, which will transport the boxes to the National Elections Council.


3:30 est. - Since 4 pm came and went in Venezuela, the most important news to report is that at 4pm, any empty voting centers were supposed to close. The ones with voters standing in line will remain open until voters have voted. An elections official acknowledged that several voting machines had malfunctioned.

3:30 est. - During a press conference which took place at 4:30 pm in Caracas, Rosales campaign representatives called for calm, and asked the military to protect the electoral process from those who "want to alter the order." Omar Barboza said the opposition planned to "defend the people's will." Rosales campaign head Leopoldo Lopez said "the process will now begin to end...but we want to be clear. We will now audit 54% of the ballot boxes. Our witnesses will be there to open the boxes." He called the military to ensure the safety of the witnesses. "The process begins with the audit," he said. "In the name of Manuel Rosales, congratulations, Venezuela."

Voting is still taking place at centers around the country.


1:10 est. - The biggest complaint reported by voters thus far has been the extreme slowness of lines created by the fingerprint detection technology. Several voters said they’d been standing in lines since dawn. In several centers, voters complained of malfunctioning voting machines. In at least one center, voting hadn’t started. In some centers, voters chanted, “queremos votar,” or “we want to vote.” One opposition representative said on Globovision news network that the National Guard was turning a blind eye to the “thousands” of Colombian-Venezuelans who were crossing the border to vote. (The local media has not provided any images or evidence of this complaint.)

Muslim (or Orthodox Jewish) moment of the day: In one voting center in Margarita Island, a soldier divided voters by gender. Standing in line, one man said that he and his wife were taking part in “conjugal visits”, wandering over to each other once in a while.


Following his vote, incumbent Hugo Chavez said "this is a great day for democracy"." He mentioned a new column which Noam Chomsky will write for the most widely read Venezuelan daily newspaper, Ultimas Noticias. When asked about earlier comments made by opposition candidate regarding irregularities in certain voting centers, Chavez said, "I hope that those who are already feeling defeated...aren't getting balls rolling without evidence." Further, he said that complaints made by "one of the candidates could be very negative." Throughout the campaign, Chavez has refused to acknowledge the principal opposition contender, Manuel Rosales, never mentioning him by name.

Chavez said he planned to spend the rest of the day at the Miraflores presidential palace working, "making government decisions", accompanied by family and some ministers. There, he said he would wait for the results announced by the National Elections Council. He called on Venezuelans to vote.

Surreal Moment: Greater Metropolitan Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto screamed at voters standing in line at the center where he cast his ballot. He demanded "respect", claiming that some in the crowd has called him a "homosexual and drunk." He said he would arrest anyone who disrespected him. When he asked those who supported him to clap, attempting to show that a "majority" supported him, a few languidly applauded.

Surreal question of the moment: During the press conference, the final question came from a Japanese reporter, who asked Chavez how he planned to engage with North Korea. "With all countries," Chavez answered. "we have cooperation. I understand why you're asking your question because of where you're from...for us, the focus you're giving it is not relevant."


10:20 est. Elections official Sandra Oblitas called on all "political actors" to refrain from making statements in the media which could create "perturbances," alluding to opposition candidate Manuel Rosales' earlier complaint. The rectors emphasized that blank ballots are due to voter error. Elections official Vicente Diaz explained in detail why the machines print blank ballots, and gave explicit instructions on how to vote. A local reporter insisted that voters complained that they had voted correctly, and still received a blank ballots. Official Janeth Hernandez insisted that the machines were certified by technicians, and members of all political sides. She said there is "no possibility" that the machines could be printing blank ballots.

When a reporter questioned complaints that the indelible ink used in the vote could be washed off with clorox, (allowing voters to vote more than once), rector Vicente Diaz said the Elections Council had purchased the ink from the Central University, as customary.

Chavez Votes

At 10:23 est. (11:23 in Venezuela), incumbent Hugh Chavez arrived at the Manuel Palacios Fajardo in the 23rd of Enero neighborhood to cast his ballot. Wearing a red shirt, he greeted supporters as he pushed his way through the crowd.

My petty comment of the hour: CNE rector Janeth Hernandez would look great in a 70's inspired roller derby film.


9:45 est. - After exiting the voting center in Zula state where he cast his ballot, opposition candidate Manuel Rosales expressed concern that the fingerprint technology was "strangely" malfunctioning at some centers located in opposition strongholds. He said his camp received reports from supporters who complained that their voting machines printed blank ballots after they voted for him. He also praised the work of the military during the electoral process, and called on Venezuelans to vote.

While there are scattered reports of malfunctioning voting machines, most complaints reported in the media centered around the slowness of the process.
Please note a one hour time difference between New York and Caracas

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