Analysis Beyond the Echo Chamber
The Americas Blog seeks to present a more accurate perspective on economic and political developments in the Western Hemisphere than is often presented in the United States. It will provide information that is often ignored, buried, and sometimes misreported in the major U.S. media. For more information, sign up for our Latin America News Roundup or visit the archives.
- Written by Dan Beeton
The Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE) is nearing the end of the third and final phase of its audit of the remaining votes from the April 14 presidential election, reportedly scheduled to finish on June 7. As we have noted, the English-language media has generally neglected to report the audit’s progress, despite that the process was originally demanded by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles as a means to resolving the dispute over the election’s outcome. Capriles has also underscored the audit’s relevance – despite having shifted his demands and decided to officially boycott it – by claiming this month that he had actually won the election by 400,000 votes.
As predicted through a statistical analysis of the initial “hot audit” of 53 percent of voting machines on April 14, the audit of the remainder has so far produced results upholding the official results showing Maduro to be the winner. According to the CNE, the first two phases “have yielded 99.98% agreement between the voting receipts deposited in boxes and the data recorded on the tallies issued by the voting machines," media outlets report.
Does Capriles have a plausible claim that the election could have been stolen? Contrary to his characterization of a biased and obstructionist CNE, as we have previously noted the CNE has made many concessions to the opposition, including 18 different audits, all of which involve witnesses from both parties. Capriles talks of numerous opposition observer complaints from throughout Venezuela on election day, yet our election live-blog on April 14 included numerous live reports from election monitors who talked to opposition representatives at dozens of voting centers in several states; few had any complaints, even less that could be considered serious. Capriles has shifted the focus of his attack to the electoral registry, but demographers from the Catholic University had reviewed the electoral registry prior to the election and found it trustworthy.
- Written by Arthur Phillips
The two biggest gangs in Honduras publicly agreed to a truce on Tuesday, calling it an effort to reduce the violence that plagues the country and asking for forgiveness and government support. Romulo Emiliani, the Catholic bishop of San Pedro Sula—the world’s most violent city outside a warzone—helped broker the agreement along with Adam Blackwell, a security ambassador for the Organization of American States (OAS). President Pepe Lobo has reportedly said he is prepared “to do whatever is necessary" to back the initiative.
The truce has been compared to a similar agreement between the same transnational gangs in El Salvador, made in March of last year. That country’s government reported a halving of the murder rate after the truce, and a 45 percent drop in the first four months of 2013 compared to the previous year. Despite such pronounced success, in January the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for El Salvador that many (including the gangs themselves) interpreted as an effort to undercut the truce’s effectiveness. Responding to the warning, which referred to outdated murder tallies, the Salvadoran Minister of Justice and Security wondered aloud whether the State Department was misinformed and said the notice demonstrated that for the United States, “street violence, deaths, robberies mostly committed by gang members, that is not their priority—their priority is drug trafficking.”
Some commentators have already questioned whether the latest truce will result in outcomes similar to those seen in El Salvador. These doubts are due in part to the recognition that the police are widely believed to be involved in death squads and the military has been blamed for murders and disappearances, many against land rights and opposition activists. Associated Press reporter Alberto Arce quoted the rector of the National University of Honduras, Julieta Castellanos, as saying “The dynamic of violence in the country goes beyond gangs and reflects the existence of multiple actors that are difficult to pinpoint.” In December Castellanos presented a Violence Observatory report that showed police responsibility for at least 149 violent deaths in the previous 23 months, including the rector’s son, Rafael Alejandro Vargas. Castellanos also voiced concern that the truce could exacerbate the already extraordinary level of impunity in Honduras.
- Written by Jake Johnston
After months of speculation, in early May the IMF formally approved a new lending agreement with Jamaica worth $932.3 million. With additional commitments from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, the total loan package amounts to $2 billion. But, after another year of negative economic growth (the fourth in the last five years), will this time be any different?
Jamaica previously agreed to an IMF loan in early 2010, which was coupled with a debt exchange that sought to lower interest rates but did not provide any haircut (a lowering of the debt’s principal). The agreement mandated harsh austerity measures and despite the debt exchange, Jamaica’s interest burden remained the highest in the world, at 11 percent of GDP. The agreement eventually broke down after a Jamaican court ruled that the government had to distribute back pay to public sector workers, against the wishes of the IMF. Nevertheless, Jamaica has largely continued the austerity measures from the first agreement. After a return to growth –albeit slow- in fiscal year 2011/12, Jamaica slipped back into a recession this past year, after cutting non-interest expenditure by over 2 percentage points of GDP. Even some within the IMF warned that the fiscal consolidation efforts were going too far and could threaten “the fragile recovery and social cohesion.”
As a precondition for the new IMF agreement, the Jamaican government undertook a second debt exchange in February of this year, seeking to lower interest costs and “bring down the debt burden over time.” However, similar to the previous exchange, the principal of the debt was not touched and interest costs remain extremely high and damaging. Of the 131 countries for which IMF World Economic Outlook data is available, Jamaica will still have the highest average interest burden in the world over the next six years. The debt exchange succeeded in extending the maturity profile of domestic debt (the amount coming due within five years decreased from 53.2 percent to 23.4 percent), but Jamaica is still expected to spend some 8 percent of GDP on interest payments for the next three years, crowding out needed spending elsewhere. Overall debt servicing is projected to take up 45 percent of total government expenditures over the next three years, only a slight reduction from the 46 percent average over the previous three.
- Written by Sara Kozameh
Ten days ago Guatemalan courts convicted former dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt, to 80 years in prison for charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Though the ruling has just been overturned on technical grounds, it was the first time that a country has been able to use its own criminal courts to try a former head of state for genocide, arguably making it one of the most important court decisions in decades. Despite the significance of the ruling, not just for what it represents for the more than 200,000 victims of the genocide and their families, but also for human rights worldwide, the mass media in the U.S. has mostly ignored the U.S. role in contributing to and supporting the genocide.
The New York Times provided a couple of exceptions in the last week. Its “Room for Debate,” feature, which is regularly published online but not in the print edition, and allows perspectives from a broader political spectrum than is normally permitted in news articles or even the op-ed page, published a range of opinions on the extent of U.S. support and complicity for the Ríos Montt regime. And last week the New York Times published an exceptional print article about the role of the U.S. government in Guatemala, Reagan’s financial and fervent military support for Ríos Montt’s bloody dictatorship, and how this aspect of the genocide had been conspicuously absent during the trial against Ríos Montt.
Amazingly, the Washington Post chose not to report at all on the historic ruling in their print edition following the day of the ruling. Although stories on corruption scandals in India, a detained youth activist in Egypt, and voting in Pakistan did make the international section of the print edition of that day’s Washington Post, the Post found no space to print this story. Two days after the conviction was announced (and after it made headlines around the world), and buried deep in the digest section of Sunday’s print international section were a total of 73 words dedicated to what it said human rights activists called “a historic moment” in Guatemala.
This dearth of words from the Washington Post shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, not reporting or investigating news about massacres and genocide in Guatemala when it had the opportunity to do so is consistent with the Post’s reporting on the country throughout the 1980s when the U.S. government supported death squads in the countryside killing anyone and everyone that they could. Yes, the Post reported on Guatemala, and on guerrillas, and occasionally it even paid some lip-service to the idea that some people claimed that the government and army, not the guerrillas, were behind the vast majority of deaths in the country. But, despite reliable indications and reports that government-led massacres and even a genocide was in fact underway in Guatemala, for example from this October, 1982 episode of PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer Report and this one from November of 1983, the Post neglected the opportunity to dig up the truth during this period. The New York Times, it should be pointed out, also mostly ignored the genocide when it was taking place. This was the pre-internet era, so if these newspapers did not report on massacres, for the United States public and policy-makers, they weren’t part of the news. (However, investigative reporter Allan Nairn did get opinion pieces into the NYT and Washington Post some time after the worst massacres had occurred.)
- Written by Dan Beeton
As we have noted previously, statistical analysis shows that Venezuelan opposition challenger Henrique Capriles has an almost impossible chance of seeing the April 14 election result change through a full audit of voting machines, as he had demanded.
We have issued two press releases about this, as well as our full paper detailing our calculations step-by-step, and CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot had an op-ed on this in Aljazeera English. Mark also presented these findings at a recent high-profile conference at the Celso Furtado Center in Rio. Despite being reported in a variety of Latin American and Spanish media, including Spanish newspaper El País, Argentine media outlet Télam, and Venezuela’s Panorama, the U.S. media has ignored this important part of the story. We have corresponded with several reporters who initially expressed interest in the one-in-25-thousand-trillion figure. None of them has since cited the statistical improbability of Capriles’ seeing the election results change through the full audit, nor have other major U.S. media outlets. One reporter writing for a major U.S. newspaper has told us that his editors refuse to publish anything related to our statistical analysis or regarding the audit and its significance more generally.
Henrique Capriles’ recent comments demonstrate why the ongoing vote audit, and more importantly, the first audit (conducted on April 14) is still relevant. In an El Pais article from May 9, Capriles says that 400,000 more people voted for him than Maduro, and that therefore the CNE’s vote count must have been wrong:
“If they rescind the electoral records we have questioned in the electoral dispute we have filed with the Supreme Court - which make up 55.4 percent of the votes cast – we would win the elections by 400,000 votes, two percent in our favor. And that’s without going into details,” he says with righteous conviction.
It appears that Capriles is still alleging the vote count was stolen in a way that would have been detectable in the first audit, and hence the statistical analysis still applies. If tens of thousands of voters voted multiple times, it would be very difficult to stuff the receipt boxes to match the multiple voting, without having some discrepancies between the machine and the paper count. The receipt boxes are in plain sight of all observers and it would be impossible for a voter to stuff multiple pieces of paper through the thin slot without anyone seeing. It would also be impossible to vote more than once without not only the collaboration of observers to fix the machines to allow this, but a conspiracy involving tens of thousands of people, with no subsequent leaks.
- Written by Mark Weisbrot
The International Crisis Group (ICG) sells itself as “working to prevent conflict worldwide” but there is one country where their mission looks more like promoting rather than preventing conflict. Exhibit A is their report on Venezuela, released today.
There is a lot wrong with this report – most of it reads like a statement from the Venezuelan political opposition, rather than a neutral third-party observer. But the most ugly and pernicious thing is the report’s insistence that “the validity of the election result [in Venezuela] needs to be clarified” and that a “full and transparent audit result” is necessary, or else the government’s “rule will increasingly come to be seen by many as an imposition, with unpredictable, possibly violent consequences.”
These statements strongly imply that the Venezuelan government is to blame if the opposition returns to violence, as it has in the past, in its ongoing refusal to accept the results of a democratic election.
For the governments of Latin America, and almost all of the world, there is no doubt about the “validity of the election result.” It is really only the Venezuelan opposition and the U.S. government that has questioned it.
The International Crisis Group has a $20 million dollar annual budget, about half of which comes from the United States and allied governments who share the State Department’s political agenda, with additional contributions from big oil companies including BP and Shell. So in some ways it is not surprising that it would take the position of the U.S. government, even when the U.S. government is, as in this case, completely isolated in the world. However, the ICG does not always do this in other countries, so this report stands out as a particularly disgraceful blot on their record.
- Written by Stephan Lefebvre and Dan Beeton
The initial trial of Guatemala’s ex-president Efraín Ríos Montt concluded on Friday with a conviction on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity and an 80-year prison sentence. Hailed as “the first time any nation [has] been able to use its domestic criminal courts to try a former head of state for genocide,” the ruling has many people looking back at the history while wondering what will happen next. After a CIA-planned coup in 1954 to defend the interests of the United Fruit Company, Guatemala was ruled for 42 years by right-wing dictatorships. For 36 of those years a civil war was fought between the government and a leftist insurgency, with the government also targeting hundreds of thousands of indigenous villagers and other civilians as part of a scorched-earth campaign. In this, the Guatemalan government was supported politically and equipped with weapons by the United States, with full knowledge that they were used in a campaign of genocide, torture and war crimes.
One of the important justifications for the Reagan administration’s support of Ríos Montt may sound eerily familiar. In a memorandum prepared by the State Department for President Reagan on the occasion of his upcoming meeting with Ríos Montt, Secretary of State George P. Shultz gives the following account of the situation:
Key Congressmen continue to react negatively to numerous reports, many of them fabricated, others true, of government atrocities against noncombatants. Ignoring the likelihood that Rios Montt will be overthrown and replaced by a repressive government if we fail to provide politically meaningful support to him, they argue that Guatemala’s human rights record must be substantially improved beyond the present situation before moving ahead with security and, in some cases, economic assistance.
From: Your Meeting with Guatemalan President Rios Montt on December 4. [Includes Talking Points], Secret, Memorandum, November 20, 1982, 4 pp.
As was pointed out in the Pan-American Post this week, similar justifications are being used for militarized U.S. support for the coup government in Honduras:
The Honduran national police are inefficient, corrupt, resistant to reform, and may be conducting extrajudicial killings in an organized capacity, but they’re the only reliable force in the country in the fight against transnational crime. At least, according to the United States [government].
- Written by Dan Beeton
A new investigative feature by award-winning Associated Press correspondent Alberto Arce probes deeper into recurring police death squad activity in Honduras. Following up on his reports in March, Arce details the cases of several gang suspects who have disappeared after being taken into police custody, as well as what witnesses have described as the gunning-down, in cold blood, of suspects in the streets. The article reveals that:
At least five times in the last few months, members of a Honduras street gang were killed or went missing just after run-ins with the U.S.-supported national police, The Associated Press has determined, feeding accusations that they were victims of federal death squads.
In March, two mothers discovered the bodies of their sons after the men had called in a panic to say they were surrounded by armed, masked police. The young men, both members of the 18th Street gang, had been shot in the head, their hands bound so tightly the cords cut to the bone.
That was shortly after three members of 18th Street were detained by armed, masked men and taken to a police station. Two men with no criminal history were released, but their friend disappeared without any record of his detention.
A month after the AP reported that an 18th Street gang leader and his girlfriend vanished from police custody, they are still missing.
As we have previously examined, Arce has noted that U.S. support for the Honduran National Police while some officers engage in death squad activity would seem to violate the Leahy Law. Rather than proceed with greater caution or reexamine ongoing policy, the U.S. State Department has responded defensively. Arce quotes Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield as saying
“The option is that if we don’t work with the police, we have to work with the armed forces, which almost everyone accepts to be worse than the police in terms of the mission of policing, or communities take matters in their own hands. In other words, the law of the jungle, in which there are no police and where every citizen is armed and ready to mete out justice,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield said in Spanish during a March 28 video chat.*
- Written by Arthur Phillips
Bloomberg’s Nathan Gill wrote a particularly one-sided article on Thursday, in which he states that “Ecuador’s bid to reduce poverty by taxing its banks is threatening to deepen the nation’s economic slump.”
“Slump” seems somewhat dire to describe the state of the Ecuadorian economy. In 2012 the economy grew by 5 percent, and it is projected to grow by 4.45 percent for 2013.
The report also offers no convincing evidence that Ecuador’s taxation of its banks is hurting the economy.
The article specifically focuses on a set of reforms that took effect on January 1, including the elimination of banks’ tax deductions for reinvested profits and a 0.35 percent tax on assets held abroad. The reporter argues that a sharp drop in bank profits in the first quarter of this year was a result of the taxation. He then argues that an increase in the banks’ interest rates must also be due to the reforms:
Non-government banks, including Citigroup Inc (C).’s local unit, raised rates on corporate loans by an average 0.21 percentage point in the first quarter to 8.88 percent, the highest since November 2010, according to central bank data. That compares with a decline of 0.72 percentage point to 8.81 percent in Colombia and an increase of 0.01 percentage point to 5.79 percent for similar loans in Peru.
However, this causality is not at all clear. It is more likely that this modest increase in interest rates is attributable to a recent uptick in inflation. Consumer prices increased at an annualized rate of 4.6 percent in the first quarter of this year, as compared to a rate of 0.2 percent in the last quarter of last year.
- Written by Alexander Main
During his trip last week to Mexico and Costa Rica, President Obama sought to down play the U.S.’s security agenda in the region, emphasizing trade relations, energy cooperation and other more benign themes. In a May 3rd joint press conference with his Costa Rican counterpart Laura Chinchilla, Obama stated that it was necessary “to recognize that problems like narco-trafficking arise in part when a country is vulnerable because of poverty, because of institutions that are not working for the people, because young people don't see a brighter future ahead.” Asked by a journalist about the potential use of U.S. warships to counter drug-trafficking, Obama said “I’m not interested in militarizing the struggle against drug trafficking.”
Human rights organizations from North America and Central America have a very different impression of the administration’s regional security policy. In a letter sent to Obama and the other region’s presidents on April 30th, over 145 civil society organizations [PDF] from the U.S., Mexico and the countries of Central America called out U.S. policies that “promote militarization to address organized crime.” These policies, the letter states, have only resulted in a “dramatic surge in violent crime, often reportedly perpetrated by security forces themselves.” The letter presents a scathing indictment of the U.S.-backed so-called “war on drugs” throughout the region:
Human rights abuses against our families and communities are, in many cases, directly attributable to failed and counterproductive security policies that have militarized our societies in the name of the “war on drugs.” The deployment of our countries’ armed forces to combat organized crime and drug-trafficking, and the increasing militarization of police units, endanger already weak civilian institutions and leads to increased human rights violations.
In Mexico, the letter says, “drug-related violence and the militarized response has killed an estimated 80,000 men, women, and children in the past six years. More than 26,000 have been disappeared, and countless numbers have been wounded and traumatized.” The letter also discusses the situation in Guatemala, where violence is “reaching levels only seen during the internal armed conflict” and “controversial ‘security’ policies have placed the military back onto the streets. And, in Honduras:
Since the coup d’état that forced the elected president into exile in 2009, the rule of law has disintegrated while violence and impunity have soared. We are witnessing a resurgence of death squad tactics with targeted killings of land rights advocates, journalists, LGBT activists, lawyers, women’s rights advocates, political activists and the Garifuna’s community. Both military and police are allegedly involved in abuses and killings but are almost never brought to justice.
- Written by Annie Bird (guest post)
On March 19, 2013 Guatemala became the first nation to try a former head of state, Efraín Ríos Montt, for genocide and crimes against humanity in its own courts, an extraordinary achievement that led award-winning investigative journalist Allan Nairn to state that, “Guatemala has reached a higher level of civilization than the United States,” where such a trial would be unthinkable. Ríos Montt’s took power in a March 1982 coup and his brutal military campaign that human rights defenders have characterized as genocidal received support from President Ronald Regan, though his administration denied it at the time.
Nairn had flown to Guatemala City as a proposed witness but once in Guatemala, he was asked not to testify after another witness, a former soldier, unexpectedly named current President Otto Pérez Molina as responsible for crimes against humanity. In September 1982, Nairn had interviewed then Major Pérez Molina, a commander in the area where the crimes Ríos Montt is being tried for had occurred. It appears that his testimony would have implicated the current president in crimes, and the victims’ lawyers were afraid that pushing the political establishment any further would endanger the case.
On April 18, the case was unexpectedly annulled by a judge not overseeing the trial, pre-trial judge Carol Patricia Flores. She made the illegal ruling two days after former Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein signed a communique published in Guatemalan newspapers, along with 11 other former members of the administration of Álvaro Arzú, calling the charges of genocide against Ríos Montt a “threat to the nation” and suggesting that if a sentence for genocide were handed down it could mean a return to political violence.
- Written by Dan Beeton
In an article this week in the Malaysian Star, South Centre Director Martin Khor describes a move by Latin American and Caribbean countries – most of which belong to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas group, or ALBA – to form an alternative to the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) to settle investor-state disputes, noting the predilection of ICSID to rule in favor of corporations:
LEADERS of several Latin American countries have set up a new coalition to coordinate actions to face the growing number of international legal suits being taken against governments by transnational companies.
A ministerial meeting of 12 countries held in Guayaquil, Ecuador, decided on several joint actions to counter the threat posed by these lawsuits, which have claimed millions or even billions of dollars from governments.
Seven of the countries, mostly represented by their ministers of foreign affairs, trade or finance, adopted a declaration with an agreement to form a conference of states affected by transnational interests.
They are Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, St Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Venezuela.
But while these are all ALBA members (except the Dominican Republic), Khor notes that several other countries were also present at the meeting are not: “Representatives of another five countries (Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico) also attended the meeting and will convey the results to their respective governments.”
- Written by Arthur Phillips
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) met with Honduran president Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo on Wednesday as part of a tour through Central America. According to press reports, Menendez characterized the trip, during which the Senator also visited El Salvador and Guatemala, as an opportunity to evaluate regional counter-narcotics and security initiatives that the U.S. is funding at increasing levels through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). A Spanish-language press report on the trip quotes Menendez as having said that he intends to “explore the specific points of this funding proposal,” and that he wants to “see what works and what does not.”
The State Department’s 2014 budget proposal, submitted on April 10, requests $161.5 million in funding for CARSI, a $26 million increase from the previous year. The proposal requests $4.5 million in foreign military financing specifically for Honduras, an increase of 450% over the FY2012 total. And Just the Facts, a joint project of nonpartisan groups focused on U.S.-Latin American relations, notes that current budget proposals have total U.S. military and police funding for Honduras in FY2014 at $8.7 million, a 63% increase over 2013 projections. Furthermore, according to a Congressional Research Service report, as of last July the State Department and USAID had planned to allocate a combined $72 million to Honduras in FY2012.
These rising levels of funding for the police and military run counter to the concerns of many lawmakers in Washington around the lack of accountability for U.S. involvement in Honduran security and anti-narcotics operations. It also highlights the seriousness of recent reports that the State Department has been supporting units under the command of National Police Chief Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, who allegedly ran death-squads a decade ago, and, more broadly, that the police have been accused of continuing to commit death-squad murders today. In December the National Autonomous University, citing the police’s own reports, announced that police had killed 149 civilians in the previous two years.
- Written by Jake Johnston
At a speech celebrating May Day in Bolivia today, President Evo Morales announced the expulsion of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from the country. According to the AP, Morales stated:
"The United States does not lack institutions that continue to conspire, and that's why I am using this gathering to announce that we have decided to expel USAID from Bolivia.”
The role of USAID in Bolivia has been a primary point of contention between the U.S. and Bolivia dating back to at least 2006. State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell characterized Morales’ statement as “baseless allegations.” While State Department spokespeople and many commentators will characterize USAID's work with oppositional groups as appropriate, a look at the agency's work over the past decade paints a very different picture.
Documents obtained by investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood show that as early as 2002, USAID funded a “Political Party Reform Project,” which sought to “serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS [Morales’ political party] or its successors.” Later USAID began a program “to provide support to fledgling regional governments,” some of which were pushing for regional autonomy and were involved in the September 2008 destabilization campaign that left some 20 indigenous Bolivians dead. Meanwhile, the U.S. has continually refused to disclose the recipients of aid funds. As a recent CEPR report on USAID activities in Haiti concluded, U.S. aid often goes into a “black box” where it becomes impossible to determine who the ultimate recipients actually are.
- Written by Dan Beeton
Reuters reported Sunday that the president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) Tibisay Lucena has criticized opposition candidate Henrique Capriles for not presenting proof to back up his claims of fraud (also the focus of our post earlier today):
"We have always insisted that Capriles had the right to challenge the process," Tibisay Lucena, president of the electoral council, said in a televised national broadcast.
"But it is also his obligation to present proof."
She dismissed various opposition submissions alleging voting irregularities as lacking key details, and said Capriles had subsequently tried to present the audit in very different terms than the electoral council had agreed to.
"It has been manipulated to generate false expectations about the process, including making it look like the consequence of the wider audit could affect the election results," she said.
Lucena's statements that the election audit of the remaining voting machines, as initially called for by Capriles, will not change the results are correct, although perhaps not for the reasons she meant. As noted on Friday, we did a statistical analysis of the probability of the results of the audit of the first 53 percent of voting machines finding the results it did if the remaining 46 percent of voting machines in Venezuela had enough discrepancies to change the results of the election. The probability, according to our calculations, is less than 1 in 25,000 trillion.
The math is pretty straightforward. Considering how many votes by which Nicolás Maduro was declared the winner, and that the initial audit of 54 percent of machines didn't find anything, and considering how many votes there are per machine, it is almost impossible for the remaining 46 percent of machines to have enough discrepancies to change the election results.
- Written by Alexander Main
“Venezuela to audit votes without opposition conditions” reads the headline of a BBC article published over the weekend. According to the piece, Venezuela’s electoral authority “will not carry out the full recount demanded by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.” A USA Today article from last Thursday notes that “Capriles said the opposition would not participate in the audit because the National Electoral Council did not meet its demand for an examination of registers containing voters' signatures and fingerprints.” An Associated Press headline – “Government formally rejects top-to-bottom Venezuela vote audit, heightening tensions” – suggests that the Electoral Council’s rejection of the opposition’s demands is stoking the flames of political conflict in the country.
As is often the case in the media’s coverage of Venezuela, a crucial piece of context is missing from these and other articles on the recent decisions of the National Electoral Council (known by its Spanish initials as CNE). Faithful readers of our blog will remember that Henrique Capriles, after the CNE announced that he’d lost the elections by a narrow margin of around 270,000 votes (narrowed down to 224,000 votes following the final count of votes cast abroad), refused to accept the results and immediately called for a recount, though other opposition spokespeople called instead for a “complete audit” of the voting machine receipts. After first calling on his supporters to take to the streets, leading to violent clashes in which over half a dozen people were reportedly killed, Capriles finally formally filed a set of demands to the CNE. Subsequently, on April 18th, the CNE agreed to audit the remaining 46% of boxes of voting machine receipts that had not yet been verified (54% of the boxes had been previously verified in the presence of witnesses from both parties).
What AP, USA Today, BBC and others fail to mention in their most recent articles is that Capriles accepted the CNE’s April 18th decision to proceed with the audit of the remaining voting receipt boxes, and said that the opposition would participate in the process. According to AFP and other sources, Capriles said that the opposition campaign “accepts what the CNE (…) has announced to the country. We will be there in the audit. We consider that the problems are in these 12,000 boxes (that will finally be opened in this audit). We will undoubtedly be able to show the country the truth.”
- Written by CEPR
Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles is currently “boycotting” a second audit of the voting results for the April 14 presidential election, which the National Electoral Council has agreed to undertake. Capriles claims that the election was stolen through fraud.
In a CEPR press release we note that it is practically impossible to have obtained the results of the audit that took place after the polls closed on April 14, if the election were actually stolen through fraud.
When the polls closed, a random sample of 53 percent[i] of all the machines (20,825 out of 39,303) was chosen, and a manual tally was made of the paper receipts. This “hot audit” was done on site, in the presence of the observers from both campaigns, as well as witnesses from the community. There were no reports from witnesses or election officials on site of discrepancies between the machine totals and the hand count.
The following is a calculation of the probability of auditing 20,825 machines and finding zero errors when there are actually 50 among all 39,303 (this means that there are 50 machines with errors among the ones that were not audited). The assumption here is that there would have to be at least 50 bad machines -- i.e. where the machine count did not match the paper ballot – in order to reverse a margin of 272,000 votes.
This assumption is of course understating the number of bad machines that would be necessary to reverse the result. The average machine has only about 360 votes, and the maximum was about 564. And here we are assuming the election is stolen by moving about 2700 votes per machine from Capriles to Maduro, on 50 machines. If more machines were bad, then the probability below gets even (vastly) smaller. So the calculation below is actually a very high estimate of the probability of obtaining the April 14 audit results, if the election were stolen.
- Written by Jake Johnston
Taking to the Huffington Post this week, former Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben attacks Argentina’s position regarding the ongoing litigation with vulture funds, a case readers of this space are familiar with. Raben states that, “The Argentine government's behavior toward U.S. courts and U.S. judges has gone beyond contempt, and its ongoing defiance of our legal system must come to an end.” Anticipating the possibility of the case going to the Supreme Court, Raben saves some criticism for the United States, which has sided with Argentina in the court case:
the U.S. executive branch made the disappointing and unfortunate decision to support Argentina at the lower-court level, on the unsubstantiated grounds that holding Argentina accountable would somehow undermine the vague U.S. foreign-policy goal of promoting the orderly restructuring of defaulted sovereign debt.
Raben concludes that, “It would be downright dangerous for the Department of Justice to maintain its support for Argentina after its disgraceful displays of disrespect for the U.S. judicial system.”Raben would have you believe that his conclusion and expertise in the matter is simply based on his previous experience:
As a former assistant attorney general, I am familiar with the struggles and the balancing involved in weighing various legal and policy questions and deciding whether to ask the Supreme Court to review a case.
But readers of the Huffington Post might be interested in something else not mentioned in Raben’s article: that his lobbying firm, The Raben Group, has been paid over $2.1 million by a group representing the same vulture funds that are suing Argentina, according to lobbying disclosure documents. In fact, the American Task Force Argentina (ATFA), of which Raben is the Executive Director, has spent nearly $4 million lobbying the White House, Treasury Department and U.S. Congress. Nowhere in the article does Raben disclose this relationship. His 382 word Huffington Post bio notes his past working for Barney Frank, his time as Assistant Attorney General and his current position “on the boards of the American Constitution Society and Alliance for Justice,” yet never mentions his management position at ATFA or even the existence of his lobbying firm.
- Written by Stephan Lefebvre
A federal district court has ruled that the Obama administration must declassify records with the names of individuals trained at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas or SOA.
Famously known as the “School of Assassins,” the school trained members of foreign armed forces who later went on to participate in some of the bloodiest and most repressive regimes in contemporary Latin America. During El Salvador’s civil war, the most heinous violations of human rights were committed by SOA graduates, who organized death squads and planned the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero (1980) and participated in the El Mozote Massacre (1980), where more than 800 civilians were murdered. SOA graduates made up the majority of the Chilean officers who overthrew Allende in favor of Pinochet in Chile. And in Argentina, General Roberto Viola was among the many SOA graduates that participated in the dirty war—he was convicted of murder, kidnapping and torture in 1985.
Though SOA changed its name and instituted reforms in 2001, its graduates have continued to be involved in anti-democratic activity and egregious human rights abuses. Case in point: Honduras. Four of the six generals linked to the coup against democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya were trained at the WHINSEC in recent years, including top General Romeo Vásquez. SOA graduates have been the subject of CEPR’s ongoing coverage of violence and impunity in Honduras; we wrote about soldiers that shot and killed a 15-year-old boy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, which included among their number at least one soldier trained at the WHINSEC.
Thanks in large parts to the grassroots campaign against the school organized by SOA Watch, a number of Latin American countries have stopped sending troops to WHINSEC. The first country to pull out was Venezuela in 2004, followed by Argentina and Uruguay in 2006. Other countries that stopped sending troops include Bolivia, Ecuador and most recently Nicaragua. However, Honduras and other Central American countries – including Costa Rica – continue to send police and military personnel to the school. The Bayonet reports that for the “Cadet Leadership Development Course” that began October of 2012, there were 64 Honduran Army cadets in attendance, representing the largest share from a single country. One cadet was quoted saying that the course was “useful in the future during joint operations.” As readers of the Americas Blog are aware, a joint U.S./Honduras counternarcotics operation last May resulted in the killing of four indigenous villagers with no apparent ties to drug trafficking.
- Written by CEPR
5:05 PM EDT: International Representation at Maduro's Inauguration
Nicolás Maduro has just been sworn in as president of Venezuela. Despite the refusal of the United States and Venezuelan opposition leader to accept the legitimacy of the election results, an overwhelming amount of the region's leadership showed up or was represented at Maduro's inauguration today.
Reports say that a total of 61 diplomatic delegations, headed by presidents, prime ministers and vice presidents, among others were present at the ceremony. At least 17 presidents are reported to have attended.
All 12 of the UNASUR nations sent delegations to the inauguration, 8 of them headed by their presidents. All 33 of the CELAC nations (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) were also represented.
Delegations from Iran, including President Ahmadinejad, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East were present.
The following presidents attended:
Dilma Rousseff (Brazil)
Juan Manuel Santos (Colombia)
Raúl Castro (Cuba)
José Mujica (Uruguay)
Cristina Kirchner (Argentina)
Evo Morales (Bolivia)
Ollanta Humala (Peru)
Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua)
Porfirio Lobo (Honduras)
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves (San Vicente and the Grenadines)
Prime Minister Keith Mitchell (Grenada)
Prime Ministers from Saint Lucia, Antigua, Barbados, Saint Kitts and Nevis also attended.
2:55 PM EDT: William Hague Recognizes New President
This message was issued by the Secretary of State for the United Kingdom:
On the occasion of the inauguration of Nicolas Maduro as President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the UK Government looks forward to working with the Government and people of Venezuela to strengthen our relationship and deepen cooperation in areas of mutual interest.
- Written by Dan Beeton
Opposition protests turned deadly yesterday, with at least seven people having been reported killed and over 61 others injured as opposition groups reportedly burned the homes of PSUV leaders, community hospitals, and mercales (subsidized grocery stores), attacked Cuban doctors, attacked state and community media stations, and threatened CNE president Tibisay Lucena and other officials. Violence is likely to continue today, as both Capriles and Maduro have called for their supporters to demonstrate in the streets. Maduro and other senior government officials have condemned the acts and have warned that the opposition is attempting a coup d’etat. PSUV legislators have suggested they may pursue legal action against Capriles for promoting instability.
The campaign of violent protest, in conjunction with opposition candidate Henrique Capriles’ refusal to recognize the election results, represents the first major extra-legal destabilization attempt by Venezuela’s opposition since the failed coup in 2002 and oil strike in 2003. It is also significant in that the U.S. is backing Capriles’ position, thereby helping to provoke conflict in Venezuela – even though most Latin American nations and many other governments around the world have congratulated Maduro on his victory and called for the results to be respected.
The opposition strategy is predictably divisive, however. Factions within Venezuela’s opposition have long opposed extra-legal and especially violent methods of attempting to force change. Some in the opposition have also hinted that Capriles’ cries of “fraud” are not credible. Opposition-aligned CNE rector Vicente Diaz has said that while he supports a full audit of the votes, he has no doubt in that the results given by the CNE are correct. Diaz made comments to this effect on opposition station Globovision yesterday; the TV hosts then quickly concluded the interview.