Reports of Fraud Continue as Venezuela’s Chavez Recall Signature Drive Enters Final Day

Cloning of ID cards, foreigners being brought from Colombia to sign, documents of death people used, and manipulation of tally forms, are among the other irregularities reported by pro-Chavez groups. Pro-Chavez groups continue reporting irregularities

Caracas, Dec 1 ( Mr. Domingo Centeno (64) thought that having surgery during the signature collection drive to request a  recall referendum on President Chavez would be complicated. What he never imagined was that the doctor would demand from him proof of having signed against Chavez in order to operate on him.

This claim, coming from the Perez Luciani Hospital in Caracas, is one of the hundreds that those who support President Chávez have made during the days that opposition forces have been collecting signatures to request a recall referendum. Workers have reported having to present “proof of signature” to their openly anti-Chavez employers under threat of losing their jobs.

Lots of organizers and military guards, but no signers at the working-class neighborhood of Caricuao, in southwestern Caracas on Sunday Nov 30.
Photo: Enrique Chopite – Radio Perola

The director of another health care facility, the Domingo Luciani Hospital, confirmed claims made last Friday by several patients being asked to sign anti-Chavez petitions while being in their hospital beds. Dr Angel Rodríguez said that hospital rules prohibits disturbing patients inside the facility. Other patients claim that the were told to sign the petitions as a prerequisite to receive medical attention. No observers were accompanying the opposition itinerant petitions collectors as required by the National Electoral Council. Dr Rodríguez thanked the Public Ombudsman Office for sending personnel to the hospital to deal with the situation.

Cloning of ID cards, foreigners being brought from Colombia to sign, documents of death people used to sign -a common practice by Venezuela’s old ruling parties-, and manipulation of tally forms, are among the other irregularities reported.

Pro-Chavez sectors say that the hundreds of reports of irregularities are evidence of a “mega-fraud” on the part of the Venezuelan opposition.

Empty signature collection center in El Tigre, Anzoategui state on Sunday Nov 30.
Photo: Osmar Castillo

President Chavez said today that both pro and anti Chavez signatures must be checked “one by one” by the National Electoral Council. “During the signature drive against the opposition, their observers didn’t report any irregularities, but now there are hundreds of reports of wrongdoing on the part of the opposition,” said Chavez.

The mayor of Caracas, Freddy Bernal, reported finding boxes with up to 30.000 non-validated petitions that the opposition had ready to introduce as valid. Bernal is a key Chavez ally.

Citizens for the Defense of the Constitution, a pro-Chavez NGO, denounced that an hour after a signature collection center at the Brión Plaza in eastern Caracas was closed, some opposition volunteers opened it again without pro-Chavez observers being present. “I got in line as if I was going to sign, then I wrote the petition form number, it is number 300128556,” said an unnamed woman who is a national CNE certified observer and a member of the NGO. “Then I asked the woman at the table if she was an absentee signature collector in the area and she responded that she wasn’t, but that she had been authorized by a man who was nearby and who claimed to be a guard for the Democratic Coordinator [the opposition parties coalition]. I asked them to hand the forms t me since I’m a national CNE certified observer, and they became very hostile,” said the woman.

Low turn out rate in El Tigre, Anzoategui state on Sunday Nov 30.
Photo: Osmar Castillo

Biased media coverage

Chavez lamented that opposition-controlled TV stations refused to broadcast paid pro-government ads. Anti-Chavez media also refused to give coverage of the multiple reports of irregularities during the petition drive. “Can you imagine if a single of our signature collection centers had computers installed during the drive against the opposition?” asked Chavez, reflecting on the fact that the opposition had used computers at their collection centers in order to make sure that those signing under pressure, don’t use fake names or ID numbers.

Commercial anti-Chavez media abstained from doing live reports due to low turn out rates on Sunday Nov 30.
Photo: Osmar Castillo

“The attitude of the commercial media is very questionable. They have kept silent in the face of what appears to be a mega-fraud that the Venezuelan people is not going to tolerate,” said Chavez.

On the other hand, state media gave little coverage to the opposition claims of lack of petitions to sign. The CNE said today that there are enough petitions in all states.

Chavez criticized CNN en Español for describing Venezuelans living overseas as “exiles”, as if they were kicked out of the country by a dictator, during a report on the symbolic petition drive organized by groups living overseas. CNN en Español showed footage of disorders outside the CNE headquarters but failed to say that they were caused by anti-Chavez politicians trying to break the security barrier and enter the CNE without authorization.

State and alternative media showed evidence of empty signature collection centers in Caracas and in the other major cities, while commercial anti-government media abstained from broadcasting live reports from signature centers due to the low turn out rates.

In Los Teques, a suburb of Caracas, very few people came out to sign on Sunday Nov 30.
Photo: César Ruiz

Commercial TV stations, the same who participated in the coup d’etat against Chavez in 2002, and promoted the lock-out and oil industry sabotage between December of 2002 and February of 2003, refused to air paid pro-government ads, and allowed opposition interviewees to release estimated numbers of petitions signed, a practice banned the CNE.

The signature drive enters it final day with both sides calling their followers to the streets in order do “defend democracy”. Opposition groups issued full-page ads in national newspapers calling their followers to take the streets to defend the results of the signature drive, while pro-Chavez groups appeared on state TV asking people to protest the “mega-fraud” allegedly committed by the opposition.