International Observers’ Report

A group of 52 international observers submitted a report detailing six problems with the opposition's petition drive, including parallel documents, the removal of petition forms from their officially approved locations, and pressure from employers to sign.

This document was submitted to the National Electoral Council (CNE) by the deputy Doris Gutierrez (Honduras), judge Eric Halphen (France), Senator Luigi Marrino (Italy), and the journalist Irene Leon (Ecuador), in the name of 52 international observers.

We –a group of 52 intellectuals, parliamentarians, social leaders, communicators, and other people from 35 countries around the world- have come to Venezuela as observers of the opposition’s petition drive, which took place between November 28th and December 1st 2003. The petition drive was aimed at hastening process of recalling the President, Hugo Chavez Frias.

After observing the process in various states, we highlight the following points. First, we stress the importance of this kind of innovative and democratic practice for the development of participatory democracy in the region and worldwide. Second, we emphasize the political will of the government, which facilitated the process of signature collection, provided security guarantees, and respected and promoted the right of all citizens to political participation. By following the constitution, the government facilitated the creation of a democratic space, in which freedom of thought and the free expression of disagreements were possible.

We observed a peaceful environment at the collection tables, the materials provided by the National Electoral Council were clear, and the people who were collecting the signatures and the national observers had an adequate level of information about the process. Nevertheless, the following aspects of the process attracted our attention:

1.- At almost all the tables we visited [1] we were able to establish the existence of parallel documents others than those allowed by the National Electoral Council.  The Coordinadora Democratica has not clarified the purpose of the following parallel documents:

A) Unofficial proof cards. This card registered a person’s identification and fingerprint as a proof of having participated in the process (attachment 1).

B) Small unofficial papers certifying a person’s identity, the table, and the number of the registration format. (Attachment 1).

3.- We observed the existence of a parallel calculation and database system in public and private areas near the tables. This database system was kept at private locations and apparently replicates the role assigned to the National Electoral Commission.

4.- Despite the fact that the documentation provided by the National Electoral Council was clear –it provided document A for the collection at the tables and document B for the mobile collection (implemented for people unable to travel)- we noted a shift towards the use of document A in lieu of document B. By this means, domiciliary signature collection may have been transformed into a massive collection process that bypassed the observers’ supervision.  

5.- In all the tables observed, we have received testimony from people complaining of coercion or pressure to sign, such as the threat of firing, refusal of service in hospitals, and employers arguing that signing was part of their work responsibilities. If these claims are confirmed, the right to freely sign will be clouded.

6.- We were surprised that the collection places allowed by the National Electoral Council were moved from their original locations without proper authorization. This complicated not only our work but also the work of the national observers.  Consequently, we estimate that this fact can cast doubt over the final results.

Caracas, November 30th 2003


[1] Visited Zones: Vargas, the Capital District, and Miranda.