A Chavista specialty: Twisting the facts to fit your story

May 30, 2006


One must
recognize that the Chavez administration has a remarkable ability to turn
issues into a fuzzy area where unless you know the details, everything looks
fine from afar, but in reality it isn’t.


This week
we have seen this twice, both in the case of the riots at the Universidad de Los Andes and the case of the audit of the electoral
registry that the muniversities have proposed:

The audit of the electoral registry:
Some of the best technical universities in the country proposed onths ago that they could
do a better audit of the electoral registry than any international institution.
Moreover, they argued, if the gave the green light to the registry, people
would have confidence in it. Two of the three universities involved (UCV and USB) generate
90% of the university research in Venezuela, as measured by their yearly publications.

Problem is
that there are many more universities, some of which began (in jealousy!) complaining that they
were not involved in the process. Well, in the spirit of collaboration and
cooperation, seven other universities were included in the project. Problem was, in the spirit
of democracy, each university also has a vote in the process, and therein lays the
problem and likely that was precisely the trap.

You see
the seven universities have been acting much like the old Chavez-dominated
National Assembly in that everything they propose is voted on dand there is little
discussion and at the end the vote is mostly seven to three according
to the President of Simon Bolivar University
Benjamin Sharifker, himself a
distinguished scientist of international renown.


While
these three universities (UCV, ULA and UCAB) object to the procedure, their main
concern at this time is the fact that the CNE refuses to allow an audit that
involves looking outside the CNE register, like using public death or borth registers, geographical
demographics and the like. Last night these three universities were ready to pull
out of the project and today they will make a final decision on the matter.


Clearly,
the audit has to look beyond what the Electoral registry contains. By looking at birth records and ID
records at the national scale, one can tell whether the registry is consistent
or not, whether it has been inflated with ghost voters or not and whether
people vote more than once.

If the CNE
wins the battle, the three universities will withdraw from the process, but the
Chavez Government will proceed to tell the world how the registry is squeaky clean
and was audited by seven of the “best” universities in the country. And the
world will believe it and nod in agreement that Chavez is truly the most democratically
elected President of the Western world since Alvaro Uribe.

The riots at the Universidad de Los Andes: The origin of the riots is the ruling by the
Venezuelan Supreme Court that the University may not have the autonomy to hold
its own elections for student union. The decision was made at the request of an
injunction by a pro-Chavez student group that lost the last election and
appeared to be going to lose this one by an even wider margin. Thus, the Court admitted the case and stopped the election from taking place.

The issue
arises because the new
Constitution
says (Art. 293) that the CNE will organize and supervise all
elections for unions, professional associations and political organizations”. However
the same Constitution (Art. 109) recognizes that Universities are autonomous in
their organization. This principle has been in Venezuelan law for quite a while
and is common in most of Latin America. It also has been at the crux of most student/Government conflicts in Venezuela’s history. The question is whether these organizations are covered or not by autonomy.

It has
been understood since 2000 when the new Constitution was approved that universities
have autonomy and indeed they have organized all elections, except in one
University where the Government has not carried out any elections as
established by law. (Interestingly, the “democratic”
union created by Chavez UNT, has yet to hold elections which is stopping all other individual union
elections from taking place for more than 250 trade unions. Incredibly, UNT is
apparently thinking
of postponing any elections once again until next year,
so they can devote all their time and energy to getting Chavez reelected! Screw the rank and files and their problems!)

Well, last
week when the students learned of the intervention of their election by the
Supreme Court, they started protesting. This led to the National Guard raiding
the University with tanks, which in turn led to more violent riots. Yes,
students were armed and people were hurt on both sides, but it was the concatenation
of the two events, the Court’s decision and the violation of the autonomy, which was to blame
for the events of the last few days. And they are likely to continue unless
elections are held soon.

But the
Government’s version is that this is nothing but a destabilization plan by the
opposition and the presence of Teodoro Petkoff at that university last Friday,
led Minister Chacon to involve Petkoff in this plan, to which Petkoff responded
today,
calling it a “dirty war” against his candidacy. As usual the People’s Ombudsman
acts like the
Government’s Ombudsman, calling the riots shameful, rather than defending the
rights of everyone involved, guardsmen and students alike.

For once,
something positive is done by this Government, in that the National Assembly proposed
a dialogue to solve the problem, something that we have not seen in the last seven
years where everything has been ordered from the top, the way the autocrat wants
it. Unfortunately, every time I praise something the Government does, they
later come out and screw it up. That is
how democracy works, you talk, you have a dialogu, not the way Chavez wants or likes it. Let’s see if it
lasts.

As far as
I remember, nobody had ever asked for a university election to be organized by the CNE before, the students are asking that the university not organize it, teher seems to be no other option but the CNE, since these are clearly political organizations and Art. 293 would apply.

It has been tacitly understood that autonomy gave the rights of
self determination and organization to the Universities themselves. Unions on
the other hand have largely refused to let the CNE organized their electoral
processes, saying this violates international labor agreements signed by the
Venezuelan Government. The Court admitted the case and will rule in the future.

But it is now wonder the Government wants to supervise
all this. According to Elides Rojas, the Chief of the press room at El
Universal, there have been 112 electoral processes at unions and universities not
supervised by the CNE in the last two years. Curiously, in a country where
Chavismo never seems to lose an election, 109 of them have been won by the
opposition. This is precisely what the Government wants to stop. (For the PSF’s
reading this, most of these elections have been decided by fairly wide margins
and the pro-Chavez forces have seldom claimed there was fraud.)

Thus, the
Supreme Court’s decision had a very clear political objective. Once again, from
afar, those reading about the riots will believe these students are simply
trying to use this as an excuse to protest and the more naive may even think
Petkoff and the opposition have something to do with the riots. That is exactly how
the Government wants to spin it and it will likely be successful once again. Just
twisting the facts to fit its story.

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