|Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met with U.S. ex-president Jimmy Carter on Monday, Jan 26, 2004.|
Caracas, Venezuela. Jan 27, 2004 (Venezuelanalysis.com).- U.S. ex-president and head of the Carter Center, Jimmy Carter, met this Monday with several Venezuelan government officials, including President Hugo Chavez, National Assembly deputies, National Electoral Council (CNE) officials, and magistrates of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, to discuss the current process of validation and counting of signatures for a possible recall referendum on the President and some lawmakers.
President Chavez said he expressed to Carter his commitment to respect the decisions made by Venezuela's National Electoral Council regarding the recall referendum on his mandate. "I have said that hundreds of times, but I'm yet to hear the same from the opposition," said Chavez, who in the past had said he would not accept a recall referendum based on fraud.
Chavez, who has echoed numerous claims of fraud allegedly committed by the opposition during the signature drive, promised to give Carter some hard evidence of the allegations. As an example, Chavez showed Carter a copy of a tally form where 28 out of 60 signature forms were not returned to authorities at the end of the day when they were handed in to be filled. Chavez speculates that those other forms -each of which holds ten signatures- were kept in order to be filled at unauthorized collection places without the presence of observers, and during dates after the signature drive was allowed by law. After the drive, the opposition took three weeks to deliver the signatures to the National Electoral Council (CNE). Chavez said Carter seemed surprised by the evidence presented.
Chavez promised to hand in to the Carter Center, a dossier of hard evidence of the alleged fraud, but said that his government will accept any decision the electoral authorities might make, even if unfavorable to him.
"You may search even under the carpets"
Chavez told Carter that, even though he knows that the United States would not accept international observers interfering with its elections, Venezuela does welcome foreign observers because he "has nothing to fear". Chavez said to have no problem with foreign groups such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center, "reviewing everything" regarding the electoral process currently under way. "You may search even under the carpets," said Chavez.
The President said that Jimmy Carter recognized the Venezuelan government efforts in social programs regarding healthcare and education.
Carter also met with magistrates at the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. According to chief magistrate, Ivan Rincon, the meeting centered on the role of international groups in the Venezuelan political process, which is being carried out "in an independent and autonomous manner as established by Venezuela's Constitution"
Rincon assured Carter that the Supreme Tribunal will not accept any violations to the country's Constitution in the current referendum process.
Carter also met with lawmakers, including National Assembly vice-president Ricardo Gutierrez (a Chavez supporter), who highlighted the progress made in the country in terms of dialogue and accords. A year ago, opposition forces were engaging in an industry lock-out, strike and sabotage of the oil industry to demand President Chavez's resignation, which caused 10 billion dollars in losses. "We met with you here at around this same time last year, and the [country's] situation was very tense," said Gutierrez to Carter.
Media urged to trust signature verification process
The Nobel Peace Price winner also met with electoral authorities. After the meeting, Carter urged the local media to trust the signature verification process being carried out by the National Electoral Council (CNE). "Venezuela's political future rests on the shoulders of the CNE authorities. We are satisfied and gratified by the job carried out by them, and we think that their decisions are consistent with the law and the Constitution of this country," said Carter. Local commercial media, which maintains strong anti-government positions, have echoed in recent days numerous comments that question the legitimacy of the electoral authorities. The questioning of the CNE is taking place at the same time as leaks from insiders hint at a large percentage of signatures being disqualified by signature validation crews due to unspecified irregularities.
The ex-president, who has visited Venezuela in several occasions in the last three years, is said to be pleased with the country's commitment to democracy, and its willingness to find a peaceful solution to the current situation.
Carter emphasized that the CNE has given them full access so that they could make an accurate and sound assessment. He thanked CNE authorities for giving his organization the chance to be witnesses of such an important process for the country.