Venezuela Closes Border With Colombia to Prevent Petition Drive Fraud

After numerous reports of Colombian citizens being brought to Venezuela to sign recall referendum petitions against President Chavez, the government decided to close the border. Other irregularities have been reported.

Venezuela’s Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel announced yesterday that a selective and temporary closing of the border with Colombia has been ordered in order to prevent anti-Chavez recall referendum petitions from being signed illegally by non Venezuelans with fake ID cards. In order to sign the petitions, a person must show their ID card. Venezuela has a national ID program, and a unique number is assigned to each citizen, similar to the Social Security numbers used in the United States.

Pro-Chavez observers have reported that people with Colombian accents have been signing petitions in bordering states.

Late last Friday, an ID card cloning operation was detected at the Miguel Antonio Caro elementary school in western Caracas. Military and police personnel were called to the scene, the equipment used was confiscated, and a formal complaint was made to the CNE.

Representatives of political parties that support President Chavez, claim the the opposition has resorted to fraud because the petition drive hasn’t been successful.

Patients forced to sign

Patients at the Domingo Luciani Hospital, reported being asked to sign the petitions against President Chavez. Only centers approved by the National Electoral Council can collect signatures. Absentee petitions can be used by authorized personnel but only when in company of at least one observer.

“A woman came here claiming to be from the CNE, and asked me to sign the petition against the President, I refused to sign but many others did. She told us that we must sign in order to receive medical attention,” said a man on TV from his hospital bed. Numerous patients at the hospital filed complains with  representatives of the Public Ombudsman office at the scene.

Several other complains have been made, including observers asked to approve petitions forms that were filled outside the collections centers without the presence of an observer. TV footage showed pro-Chavez observers holding illegally filled petitions recovered from opposition organizers who fled the scene when the cameras showed up.

Illegal computers still used

Illegal computer equipment continues being used by opposition organizers at signature collection centers. The computers have been provided by SUMATE, a private company that provides technical assistance to opposition activities. The CNE has banned the use of any electronic equipment that could be used at the tables to verify or register signers’ data. Pro-Chavez employees who have been forced by their employers to sign the petitions, are being asked to use incorrect ID card numbers or names in order to invalidate their signatures. Through the use of the computers, opposition organizers can detect fake names being used, and ask the signer to use a valid name.


At around noon, opposition leaders tried to break the security at the CNE, in order to give a press conference from within the CNE official press room. National Guardsmen prevented them from entering, as pro-Chavez demonstrators outside shouted “Coup-plotters! Cheaters!”. Shortly afterwards, a high-intensity fire cracker was exploded outside the CNE. Later, the opposition leaders were allowed to enter. Shortly afterwards, OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria, who is in the country as an observer, gave a press conference to report about his impressions on the signature collection process. Gaviria said that “there is normality” in the process” in spite reports of irregularities “which will be investigated”.

The OAS Secretary General praised the Plan Republica, were military personnel is used to guard the petitions and collections centers around the country. Opposition leaders have complained of delays by military personnel in bringing the petitions to open the collection centers in the morning.