|Jennifer McCoy, the Director of the Carter Center's America's Program, speaking at Venezuela's National Electoral Council offices.|
Caracas, Venezuela, Friday 25, 2005—Jennifer McCoy, the director of the Carter Center's Americas Program, announced yesterday that the organization’s office in Venezuela will close. However, she assured both Venezuelans and the international community that the Carter Center will continue to "involve itself in promoting the opening of space for dialogue, tolerance, and peaceful resolution of disputes in Venezuela.”
After praising Venezuela’s democratic vocation, which has withstood “recent periods of high tension,” McCoy met with the President of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Jorge Rodriguez. Together they discussed the Center’s recommendations to improve Venezuela’s electoral mechanisms, such as the creation of a Permanent Electoral Registry (REP), and the auditing of voting machines. Rodriguez assured the McCoy that the CNE is in the process of implementing these suggestions.
McCoy and Rodriguez also agreed upon the necessity to take measures in order to facilitate national dialogue and to ensure the participation of all political parties and all citizens in upcoming electoral processes. "The CNE still has the challenge to develop confidence of all of the Venezuelan people in times when there are significant sectors that do not trust the electoral power," pointed out the director.
She emphasized that Venezuela has made significant progress towards the peaceful coexistence between different groups, and that the major goal now, which "is going to take a lot of time, will be to recover the trust between people” and “to continue to discuss alternatve visions in order that the people are able to choose”. On behalf of the Carter Center, McCoy expressed hope that Venezuela would remain an example of a peaceful social transformation.
In a meeting with representatives from the conservative party Justice First (Primero Justicia), National Assembly deputy Julio Borges said to McCoy, “The Carter Center has lost its ability to be a mediator, of being a facilitator, of being a bridge in this country because it simply acted to dispatch the Venezuelan issue and to wash its hands of the matter.”
Many in Venezuela’s opposition argue that the August 15 recall referendum against Chavez was rigged and that the Carter Center did not do its job in detecting and denouncing the supposed fraud.
A Budding Threat
During a meeting with President Chávez, the President of the National Assembly, Nicolás Maduro, Maduro asked McCoy to deliver a message to the social and political circles close to the Carter Center, to inform them of the mounting concerns in Venezuela about US intervention. Maduro referred to a “budding threat against the political stability, peace, and national sovereignty" of Venezuela.
Maduro indicated two people whom he considers to be behind this threat: Peter Goss, the director of the CIA, and John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence. "We have identified in these two people the direct threat against the life of our President and against our peace and sovereignty. We have made it known that if the Carter Center wants to help the peace of the country, the best possible thing it can to is go to the United States and dispel the threat of groups of the extreme right that are ensconced in the government of George Bush," he stated.
McCoy said that in the United States there are "certain concerns about the degree of institutional independence," due to the fact that the Chávistas obtained an overwhelming majority in the recall referendum in October, 2004. When asked whether or not the Carter Center shares these concerns, she responded, "I do not want to say that we share everything that the United States government has said…but we are concerned about the independence of the institutions, about checks and balances, and about the protection of minorities’ rights."The Carter Center first established its presence in Venezuela in July, 2002 when former President Jimmy Carter traveled to Caracas to assist in resolving the nation’s political crisis. In addition to various visits to advance the Peace and Democracy Accords, Carter was invited by the Venezuelan government, along with the Organization of American States (OAS) to observe the August, 2004 recall referendum. After randomly checking over 30% of the country's 150 polling sites, Carter declared that there is "no reason to doubt the integrity of the electoral process or the accuracy of the referendum itself."