SUMATE: You? No! We, Yes!

Venezuela has an AGO (anti-governmental organization) known internationally, SUMATE. SUMATE pretends to be an electoral watchdog, overseeing Venezuelan elections. But it has also been the self-designated keystone in the effort to oust President Hugo Chávez from the presidency.

Venezuela has an AGO (anti-governmental organization) known internationally, SUMATE. SUMATE pretends to be an electoral watchdog, overseeing Venezuelan elections. But it has also been the self-designated keystone in the effort to oust President Hugo Chávez from the presidency.

The word “suma” in Spanish means to add and the word “súmate” is something of an order that you should add. In the practical order, however, it has meant that SUMATE itself does the adding and then informs the public of the results. The problem is that whether SUMATE adds papayas, mangos or bananas, the results are always the same: Chávez must go.

In February 2003, less than ten months after the failed coup against Chávez, SUMATE collected millions of signatures. If you enter their offices, you can see neatly bound books covering several walls. When you look inside the books, you discover they not only contain signatures, but the lengthy documents people were invited to sign. If those signing the papers had actually read the printing on the pages they were signing, it would have taken years to gather those millions of signatures.

On that occasion citizens were asked to sign for a variety of initiatives ranging from calling for a presidential referendum (before it was legally time to do so) to giving a round of applause to the petroleum workers who had sabotaged the Venezuelan oil industry and caused the loss of billions of dollars to the nation. SUMATE truly didn’t know what it wanted other than millions of signatures and so they asked people who didn’t like the Chávez government to simply sign, sign, sign. And they did — to no avail.

The next year, for some strange reason, SUMATE accepted money from the U.S. government. It was a piddling sum according to SUMATE. The National Endowment for Democracy (the NED) only approved $53,400 for them. They say that they really didn’t need the money. After all, if they already had thousands of volunteers to do the collecting and thousands of computers to do the tallying, what was $53,400 more in their coffers? (By 2004, SUMATE’s expenses were almost a million dollars according to their financial report.)

In time, Narco News reporter Jeremy Bigwood and Eva Golinger let the news out and Venezuelans began to ask if it was a benevolent deed on the part of the U.S. or if one country was meddling in the affairs of another.

President George W. Bush didn’t think so. He invited Maria Corina Machado, SUMATE’s leader and principal spokesperson to the Oval Office for photographs together. Condoleezza Rice met with her also. These were honors that not even the Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S. had been granted. Not bad for a woman who was being accused of treason within her own country.

Now we come to April 2006. As of the present moment, four men have announced that they plan to be candidates in the December elections. However, the consensus is that if there is more than one candidate, there will be no possibility of beating President Chávez. The question is: how to decide who the one candidate will be?

No problem. Venezuela has the answer: SUMATE! After screaming daily since 2002 about the composition and work of the National Electoral Commission, SUMATE has announced that primary elections are the answer to the question and SUMATE has self-appointed itself as being in charge of the process.

If any contemporary dictionary were looking for current descriptions of the words “hypocrisy” or “ridiculous,” SUMATE would be perfect for the task.

SUMATE seems to be following the example of another Venezuelan sideshow, Queremos Eligir (We want to elect). After repeated elections in Venezuela, its leader, Elias Santana, still shouts, “We want to elect.” But who ever elected Elias? And who elected Maria Corina and her SUMATE team to rule the elector process?

One of the candidates, senior citizen Teodoro Petkoff, refuses to say that primaries are the only was to decide the single candidate to oppose Chávez. I don’t blame him. SUMATE appears to be a clone of the Primera Justicia party, which boasts it only has young and beautiful people in its ranks. It also has a higher percentage of members who speak perfect English than would be true of Teodoro’s friends. Teodoro, I wouldn’t trust SUMATE if I were you.

One thing about SUMATE that seems to be clear at this moment is that they do not lack money. Monday they sponsored a half page ad in El Universal proclaiming that, “The woman is the greatest miracle of nature.” I’ll go along with that. I just wonder where they got the 9,780,000 bolivares (about $4,550.00) to pay for the ad.

Yes, SUMATE is a fascinating and also strange organization supposedly supporting democracy through elections. But during the December 2005 elections for the Venezuelan congress, SUMATE asked those opposed to the Chávez government to not participate in the elections. Instead they were urged to go to church that Sunday morning. Now they are asking those supporting the government to not vote in SUMATE’s primaries and are searching for ways to assure that they can’t. Their next action will probably be to recommend that these citizens go to church that day instead of voting. Not a bad idea. SUMATE could use all the prayers it can get. More than the blessing of George W. Bush’s smile and money, SUMATE needs a true miracle to make it a credible organization.

Other essays by Charles Hardy can be found on his personal blog Cowboyincaracas.com . You may write him at [email protected].