Friday, October 5, 2012

Double Speak on Venezuela: this time pro-Chavez

Recent photo of Chavez campaigning in Caracas. These campaign events are not regulated by the NCE in terms of finances and limits.
The article below by Mark Weibrot narrates that the United States is the villain against Venezuela, and that the Venezuelan electoral system is beyond fault. In support of the latter statement, Mr. Weibrot merely points to Jimmy Carter's recent statement that Venezuela has the best electoral system in the world. From an objective and non-partisan standpoint, the Foundation for Democratic Advancement begs to differ with Mr. Carter's assessment. In a recent audit of the Venezuelan electoral process, the FDA auditors found a very sound system in many aspects, but at the same time severe deficiency in electoral finance. The main finance findings are:

1. The electoral finances of Venezuelan candidates and parties are only transparent to the state.

2. Because electoral finances are only transparent to the state, there is the potential for pro-government parties to pursue corrupt financial practices and leave anti-government parties subject to unjust assessments of their finances including targeting their contributors.

3. There are no caps and limits on election propaganda in the form of billboards, flyers, posters, and campaign events. Pro-government parties may benefit unfairly from these no caps and limits, especially in consideration of the lack of public transparency of electoral finances.

4. The caps on election propaganda in the mass media (press, radio, and television) favor wealthier candidates and parties. For example, parties are permitted a daily three minute ad on national television during the 97 day campaign period. Again, pro-government parties may benefit unfairly from these limits, especially in consideration of the lack of public transparency of electoral finances.

The Foundation for Democratic Advancement has no evidence of electoral finance wrongdoing, because the finances are only transparent to the state. In addition, the FDA has no evidence of an unfair and unequal playing field in terms of election propaganda, though opposition parties have complained about imbalance in terms of billboards, campaign events etc. However, as stated, the potential exists in the Venezuelan election process for blatant electoral finance wrongdoing and an unfair and unequal playing field for candidates and parties. These findings may impact Venezuelan election outcomes by influencing the choice of the electorate.

Although Venezuela has an advanced automated electoral system, which has many safeguards in place to ensure the integrity of the vote, the mere accurate count of the vote does not necessarily translate into a fair election process. Insight into Venezuela's automated electoral system

The FDA disagrees with Mr. Carter's statement, and encourages him to support objectively his claim about the Venezuelan election process as the best in the world. His statement does a disservice to advanced and highly democratic electoral processes like in France, Venezuelan opposition parties, and to the Venezuelan electorate. FDA Report on France

FDA Media Advisory on Venezuela

Why the US Demonises Venezuela's Democracy
By Mark Weisbrot (The Guardian, UK)

On 30 May, Dan Rather, one of America's best-known journalists, announced that Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez would die "in a couple of months at most". Four months later Chávez is not only alive and campaigning but widely expected to win re-election on Sunday.

Such is the state of misrepresentation of Venezuela – it is probably the most lied-about country in the world – that a journalist can say almost anything about Chávez or his government and it is unlikely to be challenged, so long as it is negative. Even worse, Rather referred to Chávez as "the dictator" – a term that few, if any, political scientists familiar with the country would countenance.

Here is what Jimmy Carter said about Venezuela's "dictatorship" a few weeks ago: "As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we've monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world."

Carter won a Nobel prize for his work through the election-monitoring Carter Center, which has observed and certified past Venezuelan elections. But because Washington has sought for more than a decade to delegitimise Venezuela's government, his viewpoint is only rarely reported. His latest comments went unreported in almost all of the US media.

In Venezuela, voters touch a computer screen to cast their vote and then receive a paper receipt, which they verify and deposit in a ballot box. Most of the paper ballots are compared with the electronic tally. This system makes vote-rigging nearly impossible: to steal the vote would require hacking the computers and then stuffing the ballot boxes to match the rigged vote.

Unlike in the US, where in a close vote we really have no idea who won (see Bush v Gore), Venezuelans can be sure that their vote counts. And also unlike the US, where as many as 90 million eligible voters will not vote in November, the government in Venezuela has done everything to increase voter registration (now at a record of about 97%) and participation.

Yet the US foreign policy establishment (which includes most of the American and western media) seethes with contempt for Venezuela's democratic process. In a report timed for the elections, the so-called Committee to Protect Journalists says that the government controls a "media empire", neglecting to inform its readers that Venezuelan state TV hasonly about 5-8% of the country's audience. Of course, Chávez can interrupt normal programming with his speeches (under a law that pre-dates his administration), and regularly does so. But the opposition still has most of the media, including radio and print media – not to mention most of the wealth and income of the country.

The opposition will probably lose this election not because of the government's advantages of incumbency – which are abused throughout the hemisphere, including the United States, but because the living standards of the majority of Venezuelans have dramatically improved under Chávez. Since 2004, when the government gained control over the oil industry and the economy had recovered from the devastating, extra-legal attempts to overthrow it (including the 2002 US-backed military coup and oil strike of 2002-2003), poverty has been cut in half and extreme poverty by 70%. And this measures only cash income. Millions have access to healthcare for the first time, and college enrolment has doubled, with free tuition for many students. Inequality has also been considerably reduced. By contrast, the two decades that preceded Chávez amount to one of the worst economic failures in Latin America, with real income per person actually falling by 14% between 1980 and 1998.

In Washington, democracy has a simple definition: does a government do what the state department wants it to do? And of course here, the idea of politicians actually delivering on what they promised to voters is also an unfamiliar concept. So it is not just Venezuela that regularly comes under fire from the Washington establishment: all of the left and newly independent governments of South America, including Argentina, Ecuador, and Bolivia are in the crosshairs (although Brazil is considered too big to get the same treatment except from the right). The state department tries to keep its eyes on the prize: Venezuela is sitting on 500bn barrels of oil, and doesn't respect Washington's foreign policy. That is what makes it public enemy number one, and gets it the worst media coverage.

But Venezuela is part of a "Latin American spring" that has produced the most democratic, progressive, and independent group of governments that the region has ever had. They work together, and Venezuela has solid support among its neighbours. This is the former president of Brazil, Lula da Silva, last month: "A victory for Chávez is not just a victory for the people of Venezuela but also a victory for all the people of Latin America … this victory will strike another blow against imperialism."

South America's support is Venezuela's best guarantee against continuing attempts by Washington – which is still spending millions of dollars within the country in addition to unknown covert funds – to undermine, delegitimise, and destabilise democracy in Venezuela.

Question for Readers:

Do you think electoral finances only transparent to the Venezuelan state is a significant issue about the election process?

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