The Americas Blog

El Blog de las Americas

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.

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TIME magazine has sunk to new lows, soliciting a billionaire Republican donor, Paul Singer, to write its blurb for recently elected Argentine president Mauricio Macri’s entry in the 2016 edition of “100 Leaders.” It’s not ridiculous because he’s either a billionaire or a Republican though, it’s that for the better part of the last decade the man has funded a multi-million dollar campaign against the previous Argentine government. Oh, and he stands to make a pretty penny from the decisions of the new president too.

First, the backstory. In 2001, Argentina had the largest ever sovereign debt default in history, some $100 billion that the country, in the midst of a disastrous recession, simply could not continue to service. Over the following years, Argentina negotiated and reached a settlement with 93 percent of its bondholders. They agreed to take a significant haircut on their holdings and were given new bonds that were linked to the country’s economic growth. Since Argentina did quite well after its default (more on that here), the bondholders recouped their investment and a tidy profit as well.

But that wasn’t enough for everyone. A group of vulture funds, many of whom bought the distressed debt on the secondary market for cents on the dollar, took Argentina to court in New York demanding full repayment. The previous Argentine government refused to comply with court orders demanding billions be paid to these vulture funds, including Singer’s. The Argentine legislature also passed laws preventing the government from dealing with the vultures.

Singer and his allies set up a lobbying group, the American Task Force Argentina (ATFA). They brought on big Washington names like former Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben and Nancy Soderberg, a high ranking official under Bill Clinton. Since 2008, ATFA has spent more than $8 million on lobbyists, according to disclosure records. (This includes former Rep. Connie Mack, for whom Singer’s firm was a top campaign contributor. Mack was one of Argentina’s harshest critics in the U.S. House of Representatives and he quickly signed up to lobby for ATFA after losing his Senate run.)

ATFA took out full page ads in the Washington Post and other newspapers around the world denouncing former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as corrupt and a supporter of terrorism. Lobbyists wrote op-eds trashing the country (without disclosing their financial interests). They even had an Argentine naval vessel seized in Ghana to try and secure repayment.

ATFA found a friend in New York Judge Griesa, who made an unprecedented ruling that Argentina could not pay the bondholders to whom it had been making regular payments, unless it also paid the vultures. This essentially locked the country out of the global credit markets, wreaking much economic havoc that contributed to the current downturn in Argentina. 

In 2014, Singer brought on Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State, to try and negotiate with the Fernandez government. That relationship ended quickly however, as Fernandez denounced a five-point plan drafted by Albright to undermine and destabilize her government if she didn’t agree to terms with the vultures.

So yeah, there was a bit of bad blood between Singer and the previous government. Not surprising that he’s happy to see a new face in the Casa Rosada (Argentina’s version of the White House).

But here’s when TIME’s decision to let Singer write a couple of paragraphs on Macri gets even more absurd. Because when Macri was recently elected president of Argentina, he immediately went about settling the long-standing debt impasse with the vultures.

Just this week, Argentina returned to the international bond market, raising some $16 billion. Most of it will go to repay the vulture funds, including Singer’s.  TIME included a short disclaimer at the end of Singer’s piece, saying that he “has been involved in debt negotiations with the Argentine government for several years.” Well, that’s putting it mildly, to say the least.

Singer’s hedge fund is about to get paid $2.28 billion from the new Argentine government. That’s almost four times the principal amount on the bonds. And even that understates the profit that Singer is making as a result of Macri’s election. Earlier court filings showed that Singer’s firm purchased Argentine bonds for just over 20 cents on the dollar.

TIME’s list should stand as a signal of important contributions to leadership; not as a thank you note from one man who did much to damage Argentina’s economy, to the one who filled his pockets with billions in profit.

It’s like having Macri’s public relations firm do his profile. That happens all the time, but at least they usually have to put someone else’s name on it.

TIME magazine has sunk to new lows, soliciting a billionaire Republican donor, Paul Singer, to write its blurb for recently elected Argentine president Mauricio Macri’s entry in the 2016 edition of “100 Leaders.” It’s not ridiculous because he’s either a billionaire or a Republican though, it’s that for the better part of the last decade the man has funded a multi-million dollar campaign against the previous Argentine government. Oh, and he stands to make a pretty penny from the decisions of the new president too.

First, the backstory. In 2001, Argentina had the largest ever sovereign debt default in history, some $100 billion that the country, in the midst of a disastrous recession, simply could not continue to service. Over the following years, Argentina negotiated and reached a settlement with 93 percent of its bondholders. They agreed to take a significant haircut on their holdings and were given new bonds that were linked to the country’s economic growth. Since Argentina did quite well after its default (more on that here), the bondholders recouped their investment and a tidy profit as well.

But that wasn’t enough for everyone. A group of vulture funds, many of whom bought the distressed debt on the secondary market for cents on the dollar, took Argentina to court in New York demanding full repayment. The previous Argentine government refused to comply with court orders demanding billions be paid to these vulture funds, including Singer’s. The Argentine legislature also passed laws preventing the government from dealing with the vultures.

Singer and his allies set up a lobbying group, the American Task Force Argentina (ATFA). They brought on big Washington names like former Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben and Nancy Soderberg, a high ranking official under Bill Clinton. Since 2008, ATFA has spent more than $8 million on lobbyists, according to disclosure records. (This includes former Rep. Connie Mack, for whom Singer’s firm was a top campaign contributor. Mack was one of Argentina’s harshest critics in the U.S. House of Representatives and he quickly signed up to lobby for ATFA after losing his Senate run.)

ATFA took out full page ads in the Washington Post and other newspapers around the world denouncing former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as corrupt and a supporter of terrorism. Lobbyists wrote op-eds trashing the country (without disclosing their financial interests). They even had an Argentine naval vessel seized in Ghana to try and secure repayment.

ATFA found a friend in New York Judge Griesa, who made an unprecedented ruling that Argentina could not pay the bondholders to whom it had been making regular payments, unless it also paid the vultures. This essentially locked the country out of the global credit markets, wreaking much economic havoc that contributed to the current downturn in Argentina. 

In 2014, Singer brought on Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State, to try and negotiate with the Fernandez government. That relationship ended quickly however, as Fernandez denounced a five-point plan drafted by Albright to undermine and destabilize her government if she didn’t agree to terms with the vultures.

So yeah, there was a bit of bad blood between Singer and the previous government. Not surprising that he’s happy to see a new face in the Casa Rosada (Argentina’s version of the White House).

But here’s when TIME’s decision to let Singer write a couple of paragraphs on Macri gets even more absurd. Because when Macri was recently elected president of Argentina, he immediately went about settling the long-standing debt impasse with the vultures.

Just this week, Argentina returned to the international bond market, raising some $16 billion. Most of it will go to repay the vulture funds, including Singer’s.  TIME included a short disclaimer at the end of Singer’s piece, saying that he “has been involved in debt negotiations with the Argentine government for several years.” Well, that’s putting it mildly, to say the least.

Singer’s hedge fund is about to get paid $2.28 billion from the new Argentine government. That’s almost four times the principal amount on the bonds. And even that understates the profit that Singer is making as a result of Macri’s election. Earlier court filings showed that Singer’s firm purchased Argentine bonds for just over 20 cents on the dollar.

TIME’s list should stand as a signal of important contributions to leadership; not as a thank you note from one man who did much to damage Argentina’s economy, to the one who filled his pockets with billions in profit.

It’s like having Macri’s public relations firm do his profile. That happens all the time, but at least they usually have to put someone else’s name on it.

The recent murder of environmental and indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres has brought attention to the extreme danger faced by human rights defenders in Honduras. Less than two weeks after Berta’s murder, Nelson García, another activist with the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was murdered following the eviction of Lenca communities from their land by state security forces. In the past few years, COPINH members have been killed by state forces, as in the case of Tomás García in 2013, and have faced intimidation, harassment and continual criminalization by the government (including the arrest in 2013 of Berta Cáceres along with two other COPINH leaders on trumped-up charges).

Within a context of increasing persecution and intimidation against Honduran social activists, COPINH’s experience is not unique. Activists across Honduras — whether they are from environmental, labor, indigenous or LGBT rights organizations — have faced intense repression and violence. These acts of violence almost never result in prosecutions, and rather than protect activists, Honduran security forces are frequently suspected of criminal complicity in the attacks.  

On Thursday, April 7, 2016, human rights defenders discussed the disturbing pattern of violence and repression in Honduras targeting social activists. The congressional briefing, “The U.S. Policy Response to Violence and Repression Against Human Rights Defenders in Honduras” was hosted by Representative Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and moderated by Timi Gerson, Director of Advocacy with American Jewish World Service. Speakers included Tomás Gómez Membreño, General Coordinator of COPINH; Alejando Tercero, LGBT activist with the Rainbow Collective (Colectivo Arcoiris); Bertha Oliva, Executive Director of the Committee for the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH); and Víctor Fernández, COPINH Attorney and Coordinator of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ).

The panelists discussed the current climate in Honduras from the perspective of different communities of human rights activists and highlighted what reforms to U.S.-Honduras policy are needed to curb rights abuses and to support the work of human rights advocates and civil society more broadly.

The event, in its entirety, can be viewed here and below, with the four panelists’ comments in untranslated Spanish and the panel moderated in English.

The recent murder of environmental and indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres has brought attention to the extreme danger faced by human rights defenders in Honduras. Less than two weeks after Berta’s murder, Nelson García, another activist with the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was murdered following the eviction of Lenca communities from their land by state security forces. In the past few years, COPINH members have been killed by state forces, as in the case of Tomás García in 2013, and have faced intimidation, harassment and continual criminalization by the government (including the arrest in 2013 of Berta Cáceres along with two other COPINH leaders on trumped-up charges).

Within a context of increasing persecution and intimidation against Honduran social activists, COPINH’s experience is not unique. Activists across Honduras — whether they are from environmental, labor, indigenous or LGBT rights organizations — have faced intense repression and violence. These acts of violence almost never result in prosecutions, and rather than protect activists, Honduran security forces are frequently suspected of criminal complicity in the attacks.  

On Thursday, April 7, 2016, human rights defenders discussed the disturbing pattern of violence and repression in Honduras targeting social activists. The congressional briefing, “The U.S. Policy Response to Violence and Repression Against Human Rights Defenders in Honduras” was hosted by Representative Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and moderated by Timi Gerson, Director of Advocacy with American Jewish World Service. Speakers included Tomás Gómez Membreño, General Coordinator of COPINH; Alejando Tercero, LGBT activist with the Rainbow Collective (Colectivo Arcoiris); Bertha Oliva, Executive Director of the Committee for the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH); and Víctor Fernández, COPINH Attorney and Coordinator of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ).

The panelists discussed the current climate in Honduras from the perspective of different communities of human rights activists and highlighted what reforms to U.S.-Honduras policy are needed to curb rights abuses and to support the work of human rights advocates and civil society more broadly.

The event, in its entirety, can be viewed here and below, with the four panelists’ comments in untranslated Spanish and the panel moderated in English.

From Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson to FIFA ethics lawyer Juan Pedro Damiani, the Panama Papers have already claimed their first few casualties despite having only been public knowledge for five days. In Peru, the revelations add yet another twist to an already tumultuous presidential election scheduled for this Sunday that has seen two candidates disqualified from running. Four of the remaining candidates now find themselves implicated in the same global financial scandal, including frontrunner Keiko Fujimori and her rival Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who is tied with Verónika Mendoza for second place.

The Peruvian elections were first thrown into turmoil on March 4, a month before the leak, when the country’s electoral board disqualified both Julio Guzmán and César Acuña from the elections. Guzmán, an economist from the liberal party Todos por el Perú (All for Peru), had been regarded as Fujimori’s main challenger at the time, polling between 16 and 18 percent compared to Fujimori’s roughly 30 percent. Acuña, on the other hand, was a marginal candidate with single-digit support. The electoral board voted to exclude Guzmán on a technicality, as his party had completed their paperwork incorrectly, as well as Acuña for illegally purchasing support. But the board then courted more controversy three weeks later, when it allowed Fujimori to continue running despite similar accusations of vote-buying against her.

With Guzmán out of the running, the race for second place is now a dead heat between former Prime Minister Kuczynski and left-wing lawmaker Mendoza, whose support has surged dramatically in recent weeks partly by picking up vast numbers of undecided voters, who still make up an estimated 40 percent of the electorate. Kuczynski is widely supported by the elites, with an agenda focused on promoting private investment by lowering taxes and cutting bureaucratic red tape, while Mendoza has opposed these policies in favor of increasing public spending to promote growth and to diversify the Peruvian economy away from its dependence on mining and other extractive industries. One of the two candidates is likely to face Fujimori in a runoff election in June.

Recent polls show Fujimori with a slightly greater share of the vote since Guzmán was excluded a month ago, with her support having grown to 37 percent. But in a highly polarized election, she also faces immense public opposition for the same reason that her support stands strong: her father’s legacy. Jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress to grant himself unlimited powers in a “self-coup” in 1992, unleashed military death squads that massacred civilians on the pretext of anti-terrorism, and was eventually removed from office following a major corruption scandal in 2000. He was handed a 25-year prison sentence in 2009 for multiple human rights abuses, bribery and several other charges. Keiko served as first lady under her father from 1994 until his ousting in 2000 and, despite pledging to avoid his autocratic tendencies, remains openly loyal to his political legacy.

Little surprise, then, that some 30,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Lima on Tuesday to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the elder Fujimori’s self-coup and to march against his daughter’s candidacy. The electoral board’s incongruous decision to exclude Guzmán and Acuña but to keep Fujimori has not helped her association with her father’s corrupt and anti-democratic practices – especially given that there was as much evidence against her as there had been against Acuña.

The Panama Papers have dealt the latest potential blow to Fujimori’s campaign efforts. Although Fujimori herself has not been named in the papers, the appearance of two of her major campaign contributors in the leaked documents has called the legitimacy of her campaign funding into question. Sil Yok Lee, a major Peruvian financier of Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular (Popular Force) party, has been revealed as the representative of two offshore entities in the British Virgin Islands, appointed through Mossack Fonseca by another shell company based in Niue in the South Pacific.

The leaks also implicate Jorge Javier Yoshiyama Sasaki, the nephew of Jaime Yoshiyama Tanaka, who served as a minister under the elder Fujimori. Together with his wife Joon Lim Lee Park, Yoshiyama contributed $111,000 to Keiko Fujimori’s 2011 and 2016 campaigns. According to the documents from Mossack Fonseca, a shell company in Seychelles had appointed him in 2010 as the legal representative of another entity based in the British Virgin Islands but with operations in Peru. Mossack Fonseca granted the Seychellois company, and hence Yoshiyama himself, near total control over operations in Peru.

But whether the Panama Papers will ultimately hurt Fujimori more than her opponents remains to be seen, particularly as Kuczynski is also not only implicated but appears in the leaks in his own name. Among the leaked documents is a letter of recommendation written by Kuczynski in 2006, when he served as Prime Minister, on behalf of Francisco Pardo Mesones, a former director of the Peruvian central bank. Pardo used the letter to open bank accounts in Panama for an offshore firm that served as an intermediary on behalf of a private German firm. The arrangement, worth some 60 million euros in contracts, was designed to obscure the fact that Pardo’s German client was producing passports for the Cuban and Venezuelan governments, which it feared would negatively affect its reputation.

Both Fujimori and Kuczynski have downplayed the leaks. Fujimori has declined to comment, while Kuczynski has distanced himself from Pardo, arguing that he was unaware that his letter of recommendation would be used for commercial purposes, before making another press statement questioning the authenticity of the leaked letter. But after the controversy around the electoral board’s dubious rulings, the Panama Papers only serve to reinforce a growing public perception of the leading candidates as dishonest and corrupt and of the Peruvian elections as heavily rigged. With nearly half the electorate still undecided and a runoff vote almost guaranteed, the revelations could yet prove decisive in determining who Fujimori faces in June and, by extension, whether either Kuczynski or Mendoza can beat her to the presidency.

From Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson to FIFA ethics lawyer Juan Pedro Damiani, the Panama Papers have already claimed their first few casualties despite having only been public knowledge for five days. In Peru, the revelations add yet another twist to an already tumultuous presidential election scheduled for this Sunday that has seen two candidates disqualified from running. Four of the remaining candidates now find themselves implicated in the same global financial scandal, including frontrunner Keiko Fujimori and her rival Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who is tied with Verónika Mendoza for second place.

The Peruvian elections were first thrown into turmoil on March 4, a month before the leak, when the country’s electoral board disqualified both Julio Guzmán and César Acuña from the elections. Guzmán, an economist from the liberal party Todos por el Perú (All for Peru), had been regarded as Fujimori’s main challenger at the time, polling between 16 and 18 percent compared to Fujimori’s roughly 30 percent. Acuña, on the other hand, was a marginal candidate with single-digit support. The electoral board voted to exclude Guzmán on a technicality, as his party had completed their paperwork incorrectly, as well as Acuña for illegally purchasing support. But the board then courted more controversy three weeks later, when it allowed Fujimori to continue running despite similar accusations of vote-buying against her.

With Guzmán out of the running, the race for second place is now a dead heat between former Prime Minister Kuczynski and left-wing lawmaker Mendoza, whose support has surged dramatically in recent weeks partly by picking up vast numbers of undecided voters, who still make up an estimated 40 percent of the electorate. Kuczynski is widely supported by the elites, with an agenda focused on promoting private investment by lowering taxes and cutting bureaucratic red tape, while Mendoza has opposed these policies in favor of increasing public spending to promote growth and to diversify the Peruvian economy away from its dependence on mining and other extractive industries. One of the two candidates is likely to face Fujimori in a runoff election in June.

Recent polls show Fujimori with a slightly greater share of the vote since Guzmán was excluded a month ago, with her support having grown to 37 percent. But in a highly polarized election, she also faces immense public opposition for the same reason that her support stands strong: her father’s legacy. Jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress to grant himself unlimited powers in a “self-coup” in 1992, unleashed military death squads that massacred civilians on the pretext of anti-terrorism, and was eventually removed from office following a major corruption scandal in 2000. He was handed a 25-year prison sentence in 2009 for multiple human rights abuses, bribery and several other charges. Keiko served as first lady under her father from 1994 until his ousting in 2000 and, despite pledging to avoid his autocratic tendencies, remains openly loyal to his political legacy.

Little surprise, then, that some 30,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Lima on Tuesday to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the elder Fujimori’s self-coup and to march against his daughter’s candidacy. The electoral board’s incongruous decision to exclude Guzmán and Acuña but to keep Fujimori has not helped her association with her father’s corrupt and anti-democratic practices – especially given that there was as much evidence against her as there had been against Acuña.

The Panama Papers have dealt the latest potential blow to Fujimori’s campaign efforts. Although Fujimori herself has not been named in the papers, the appearance of two of her major campaign contributors in the leaked documents has called the legitimacy of her campaign funding into question. Sil Yok Lee, a major Peruvian financier of Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular (Popular Force) party, has been revealed as the representative of two offshore entities in the British Virgin Islands, appointed through Mossack Fonseca by another shell company based in Niue in the South Pacific.

The leaks also implicate Jorge Javier Yoshiyama Sasaki, the nephew of Jaime Yoshiyama Tanaka, who served as a minister under the elder Fujimori. Together with his wife Joon Lim Lee Park, Yoshiyama contributed $111,000 to Keiko Fujimori’s 2011 and 2016 campaigns. According to the documents from Mossack Fonseca, a shell company in Seychelles had appointed him in 2010 as the legal representative of another entity based in the British Virgin Islands but with operations in Peru. Mossack Fonseca granted the Seychellois company, and hence Yoshiyama himself, near total control over operations in Peru.

But whether the Panama Papers will ultimately hurt Fujimori more than her opponents remains to be seen, particularly as Kuczynski is also not only implicated but appears in the leaks in his own name. Among the leaked documents is a letter of recommendation written by Kuczynski in 2006, when he served as Prime Minister, on behalf of Francisco Pardo Mesones, a former director of the Peruvian central bank. Pardo used the letter to open bank accounts in Panama for an offshore firm that served as an intermediary on behalf of a private German firm. The arrangement, worth some 60 million euros in contracts, was designed to obscure the fact that Pardo’s German client was producing passports for the Cuban and Venezuelan governments, which it feared would negatively affect its reputation.

Both Fujimori and Kuczynski have downplayed the leaks. Fujimori has declined to comment, while Kuczynski has distanced himself from Pardo, arguing that he was unaware that his letter of recommendation would be used for commercial purposes, before making another press statement questioning the authenticity of the leaked letter. But after the controversy around the electoral board’s dubious rulings, the Panama Papers only serve to reinforce a growing public perception of the leading candidates as dishonest and corrupt and of the Peruvian elections as heavily rigged. With nearly half the electorate still undecided and a runoff vote almost guaranteed, the revelations could yet prove decisive in determining who Fujimori faces in June and, by extension, whether either Kuczynski or Mendoza can beat her to the presidency.

“Berta Cáceres, my mother, is not dead. She multiplied. So it is our job, everyone whose lives she touched in some way, to continue multiplying her. From now on, we are committed to carrying on this work.” -Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, indigenous activist and daughter of Berta Cáceres

Berta Cáceres, co-founder of the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and recipient of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, was killed by gunmen in her home on March 3rd. Less than two weeks later, one of Cáceres’ colleagues, a COPINH member named Nelson García, was also assassinated following the violent eviction of a Lenca community at Rio Chiquito.

On Wednesday, March 23, Cáceres’ daughter and a COPINH activist were joined by experts on international law and megaprojects to brief U.S. congressional staff and the general public on the events surrounding Cáceres’ assassination and the efforts of Cáceres’ family members and COPINH to seek justice. The congressional briefing, “The Assassination of Berta Cáceres and Ongoing Killings and Attacks Targeting Social Activists in Honduras” was hosted by Representative Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and moderated by Timi Gerson, Director of Advocacy with American Jewish World Service.

Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, indigenous activist and daughter of Berta Cáceres, gave an overview of the events leading up to and following her mother’s assassination. Gaspar Sánchez, Member of the General Coordination of COPINH and the Coordinator for LGBTQ Rights, talked about COPINH’s work and what has led to the repression by both state and private security forces. Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), talked about the importance of an independent investigation. Annie Bird, a human rights activist and Director of Rights and Ecology who has long worked closely with Cáceres and COPINH, provided context behind the megaprojects that are at the root of many of the security concerns in Honduras.

The event, in its entirety, can be viewed here and below (Zúñiga Cáceres and Sánchez’s remarks are in untranslated Spanish). The following are summaries and excerpts from the panelists’ remarks (Zúñiga Cáceres and Sánchez’s remarks have been translated).

Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, indigenous activist, daughter of Berta Cáceres

Zúñiga Cáceres opened by saying:

My mother fought for the rights of indigenous people, their right to their land, and the defense of their culture. She fought for life because she loved life. That’s the reason — for her life, her history, her legacy — that drives me and drives us to continue this and to live this, despite the pain.

She explained that, between 2013 and 2016, her mother had received 33 threats related to her fight against the DESA company’s Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, none of which were investigated by Honduran authorities. Berta received threats the week before her assassination and urged her children to leave the country for their safety. Zúñiga Cáceres shared:

My mother’s last words to me were that if I heard that something had happened to her, that I shouldn’t be afraid. […] So with all of this, with her bravery, and in spite of everything, in spite of her high profile — she won the Goldman Prize in 2015, she visited the Pope, she was internationally recognized for her work — and even so she was assassinated. This shows that they can assassinate any of us in Honduras.

Due to her work, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had requested precautionary measures for Cáceres since 2009, which the Honduran government only began to partially implement starting in 2013. However, these measures were insufficient, explained Zúñiga Cáceres:

She asked for private security, but they didn’t give it to her because they said it was excessive for her situation. She asked for cameras and they gave her two, but they didn’t even work because when it came time to investigate her assassination, they didn’t record. They gave her police — escorts for when she traveled long distances — and the police were the same that DESA had. […] These were the insufficient, inefficient security measures that the state provided her. And that’s why today I have to be here talking about my mother’s assassination.

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the family has yet to be given access to information regarding the investigation and was denied the right to ask for an expert to be present at the autopsy. She also expressed concern for Gustavo Castro Soto, the only witness to the assassination:

[Gustavo] has been subjected to psychological torture because they left him in the same bloody clothes for 24 hours, they didn’t let him sleep, they haven’t let him return to his country or see anybody, including us. He hasn’t received psychological attention. They even made him travel long distances from my town to the capital several times. So we are worried about the health of the witness. Aside from being a witness, we value his life, because he also fights for life.

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the murder investigation was originally focused on a hypothetical internal conflict within COPINH, ignoring the multiple threats Cáceres had received. The minister of security initially said it was a crime of passion.

So we see the unwillingness the state of Honduras has had in giving us access to and allowing us to participate in the investigation. Because of our distrust, we have asked for a trustworthy independent commission of experts that can investigate and find something out, in order to have some justice in the midst of all of this pain and loss, which is a loss to humanity as well.

The family and COPINH were granted precautionary measures by the IAHCR and personally presented a security plan to the minister of security and minister of governance. Their requests included private security, cameras, a panic button, police escorts for long-distance travel, and an end to the Agua Zarca project, the source of threats against Cáceres, COPINH, and the community. They have yet to receive a response. Likewise, they have not received a response to their request to meet with the president and the attorney general. Additionally, the person making official statements about the case is the chancellor, in charge of foreign affairs, who updates the international community, not the family.

Zúñiga Cáceres closed by stating:

It’s important that it is clear that they are still coming after us, still harassing us, still intimidating us, and that the state of Honduras has done absolutely nothing to protect us, in the same way that they did nothing to protect my mother’s life, who was a caregiver to the world. Today, we have one fewer person protecting life. The world lost Berta Cáceres, and that has to hurt everybody.

Gaspar Sánchez, Member of the General Coordination of COPINH, and the Coordinator for LGBTQ Rights

Sánchez explained that repression of indigenous people and of Honduran social movements has increased since the 2009 coup d’état. In 2010, the Honduran Congress issued concessions for development on rivers, lands for mining, and privatized forests. They did so without a previous free and informed consultation with indigenous communities, violating ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and resulting in illegal and illegitimate acquisitions of land.

COPINH is currently working on 49 of these projects in Lenca territories, Sánchez said, including their fight against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, which began in 2013 and is an example of “development for companies, not for communities.” COPINH has filed complaints against all of these projects, but the Honduran government has not followed-up on the cases nor given a response. Their work has resulted in death threats against Cáceres and other community leaders.

Additionally, Sánchez said the Lenca communities face increased militarization, with police and military forces protecting the interests of companies, not the community, even resulting in deaths. “The state of Honduras lacks the political will to help us or to pay attention to our demands as an organization. Instead, they criminalize us.”

Sánchez explained:

In Honduras, to assassinate or to kill someone, especially if [the killer] is a soldier or police officer, for them it’s a privilege. For soldiers who assassinate human rights defenders, it’s a privilege, they don’t even punish them. That’s another reason why we are here today, so that all of you that live here know that the U.S. also gives a lot of financial support to Honduras for security and strengthening the military. In other words, all the money that has been given for that, there in Honduras it’s converted into repression, it’s converted into assassinations.

Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director, CEJIL

Krsticevic explained that violence and impunity are the norm in Honduras. The threats against Cáceres provided ample warning, and the family and COPINH did what they could, but the local authorities did not protect her. “We don’t want it to be business as usual. We want the deaths of environmental human rights defenders and indigenous leaders to stop here,” she said.

The investigation has been very problematic, Krsticevic said: The crime scene was not secured, there is concern over how Cáceres’ body was moved, the sole witness has been harassed, the lawyer and the family have not had access to the investigation as guaranteed under Honduran law, they didn’t allow a forensic doctor to be present at the autopsy, and they are investigating the assassination as an internal fight within COPINH despite the many documented threats.

“Given the broader context of impunity and the specific problems that are happening with the case of Berta, we think we need something different in order to secure truth and justice and the protection of the family members of Berta and others in COPINH,” Krsticevic said. She explained that several ideas have been floated, including the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH, which is backed by the OAS) or the new Honduran office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, but these “do not have the powers that are needed to pursue a thorough investigation. They cannot actively participate within the criminal process.”

Instead, she continued:

We are asking, and the family members are asking, for a group of experts to be involved and actively participate in the investigation of Berta’s murder. We are thinking of and proposing a group that is similar to what the Mexican government and the family members of the students that disappeared in Ayotzinapa asked from the IAHCR. […] We want something similar for Honduras: a group of international experts that have the credibility, the expertise that is necessary to pursue a reasonable, thorough investigation. What we want is nothing but the truth and nothing but justice.

Annie Bird, Director, Rights and Ecology

Bird explained that, in the 1990s, COPINH worked to successfully pressure the Honduran government to ratify ILO Convention 169 (the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention). But, at the same time, “the international community, the multilateral development banks and USAID, and other development policymakers were advancing changes in land administration policy, which fundamentally undercut any ability to defend the land rights and the rights that were enshrined in ILO 169.”

Bird said that in the early 1990s the system of ejidos — the traditional communal system of land tenure — was changed, giving power to municipal governments to create private land titles and resulting in extreme conflict and many indigenous communities losing land due to theft and the laundering of land titles. This is the case of the land surrounding the Agua Zarca dam: The municipal government extended land titles to people who did not have a right to that land.

For example, when Berta was accused of land usurpation, because of these illegal land titles that had been extended by the municipal government, at the same time COPINH denounced those property owners as having illegally usurped the land. But COPINH’s denouncements were not investigated, whereas there was a forceful criminalization of the land rights defenders.

These changes in the land system, Bird said, coupled with corruption and lack of access to justice have resulted in conflict and violence. This has been further aggravated by massive concessions of hydroelectric and mineral rights and the use of paramilitaries and the military to enforce control of land.

Bird emphasized the need to reexamine land policies that have fueled violence and led to the assassinations of Cáceres, Nelson García, and others, as well as multilateral development banks that fund companies that use paramilitaries to control their land. “This is not in the mandate of these banks; the mandate is to end poverty. But instead it’s fueling violence and fueling poverty.”

Timi Gerson, Director of Advocacy, American Jewish World Service

Gerson summarized the panelists’ concerns and demands:

I think what’s really obvious from all of the presenters is that the Honduran government has shown neither the willingness nor [the] capacity to bring justice, in these cases or in general. And there really are four demands that I want people here to walk away [with]. I think it’s clear that they’re not listening to the voices of indigenous communities in Honduras; they’re certainly not listening to the family of Berta Cáceres, and that’s why we need to add our voices and the voice of the U.S. government to make the Honduran government listen. So really there are four key demands.

One is that there is an independent investigation based on the Mexican model, with the Inter-American Commission hopefully playing a key role as really the only international organization that has the capacity, the expertise, and the mandate to do so. In addition to that is the access of the family to propose these independent experts and to have the access that they should have under Honduran law.

There is the question of protection, that we need to fully fund. The Honduran government needs to fully fund the security plan for the family and the witness, allowing Gustavo to leave, to go back to Mexico. His life is in danger in Honduras right now. He has done his duty in giving his statement and he should be allowed to leave.

Obviously there are questions also of U.S. policy and U.S. aid. The U.S does give security and military aid to Honduras and I think that needs to be questioned, and my organization believes it needs to be suspended, as do about 250 other organizations that signed the letter on this that many of you have seen. In light of these recent human rights abuses I think that there also should be a full review of all bilateral aid to Honduras to see: Is it really responding to the needs or is it, as Annie said, promoting some of these policies that are leading to these deaths?

And the last [demand] really is related to that, which is we really do need to do our part in the U.S. to ensure that we are not funding these projects or supporting them in any way, both in our context as the U.S. government as an aid donor, but also in the multilateral context.

Question and answer session

Even if there is third party pressure, what are the chances of the Honduran government allowing access to the investigation?

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the Honduran government should allow access, but they will need to be pressured because there’s currently no political will to do so.

Krsticevic expressed that political will is constructed over time and they are still hopeful that the Honduran government will do the right thing. She noted that the Mexican government agreed to the group of independent experts and designated over a million dollars to fund the investigation. She stressed again the necessity of an independent investigation in Honduras.

Bird said that the Honduran government has shown no political will to investigate the assassinations of other land rights activists or to reform the justice system. She emphasized the responsibility of the international community to pressure the Honduran government to reform its justice system:

We cannot continue to separate development from justice. There will never be development; there will never be an end to poverty when the justice systems do not work. Any land tenancy reform or administration process that we’re promoting will be fundamentally flawed if the justice system is not functional. And so it’s absolutely important that the Honduran government — and not just the government, but the business community here — that [if] they do not allow the international community to help them fix what is the most broken system in the continent, then they cannot continue to receive international investment. That’s the message that needs to be heard.

What can the international community, specifically the U.S., do to try to correct the issues with Honduran security forces?

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the first step is to clean up the corrupt security forces, though this is further complicated by the fact that the state is also corrupt. She said that the police and military should leave the indigenous territories, where they are doing more harm than good:

We take care of ourselves. We respect our rights and we have a worldview relating to justice. And what they’re doing now, by positioning themselves within our territories, is attacking us. That’s why we don’t want the police and soldiers to come [to our territory]. They are the ones affecting us. We, as an indigenous community, have our ways of ensuring justice and security within our territories. We don’t need outsiders coming in, as they have always done, to tell us how to do things.

She continued that the police and soldiers are also a threat to women in the community:

As women, the police are a danger to us. I’m not saying this because they told me about it, I am telling you because I am a woman and I live in Honduras. We experience harassment walking down the street, by the police themselves. […] We are afraid of the police and soldiers.

She argued that what would help would be to cut off U.S. aid to security forces, which she characterized as “a lack of respect” by the U.S. by funding human rights violations.

Sánchez added:

One of the things that we also think is important is for the international community to demand that the [Honduran] government punish the people responsible for the assassinations, especially the police and soldiers that have assassinated environmental human rights defenders. Because they aren’t being punished, they’re free and they haven’t been imprisoned or prosecuted.

“Berta Cáceres, my mother, is not dead. She multiplied. So it is our job, everyone whose lives she touched in some way, to continue multiplying her. From now on, we are committed to carrying on this work.” -Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, indigenous activist and daughter of Berta Cáceres

Berta Cáceres, co-founder of the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and recipient of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, was killed by gunmen in her home on March 3rd. Less than two weeks later, one of Cáceres’ colleagues, a COPINH member named Nelson García, was also assassinated following the violent eviction of a Lenca community at Rio Chiquito.

On Wednesday, March 23, Cáceres’ daughter and a COPINH activist were joined by experts on international law and megaprojects to brief U.S. congressional staff and the general public on the events surrounding Cáceres’ assassination and the efforts of Cáceres’ family members and COPINH to seek justice. The congressional briefing, “The Assassination of Berta Cáceres and Ongoing Killings and Attacks Targeting Social Activists in Honduras” was hosted by Representative Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and moderated by Timi Gerson, Director of Advocacy with American Jewish World Service.

Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, indigenous activist and daughter of Berta Cáceres, gave an overview of the events leading up to and following her mother’s assassination. Gaspar Sánchez, Member of the General Coordination of COPINH and the Coordinator for LGBTQ Rights, talked about COPINH’s work and what has led to the repression by both state and private security forces. Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), talked about the importance of an independent investigation. Annie Bird, a human rights activist and Director of Rights and Ecology who has long worked closely with Cáceres and COPINH, provided context behind the megaprojects that are at the root of many of the security concerns in Honduras.

The event, in its entirety, can be viewed here and below (Zúñiga Cáceres and Sánchez’s remarks are in untranslated Spanish). The following are summaries and excerpts from the panelists’ remarks (Zúñiga Cáceres and Sánchez’s remarks have been translated).

Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, indigenous activist, daughter of Berta Cáceres

Zúñiga Cáceres opened by saying:

My mother fought for the rights of indigenous people, their right to their land, and the defense of their culture. She fought for life because she loved life. That’s the reason — for her life, her history, her legacy — that drives me and drives us to continue this and to live this, despite the pain.

She explained that, between 2013 and 2016, her mother had received 33 threats related to her fight against the DESA company’s Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, none of which were investigated by Honduran authorities. Berta received threats the week before her assassination and urged her children to leave the country for their safety. Zúñiga Cáceres shared:

My mother’s last words to me were that if I heard that something had happened to her, that I shouldn’t be afraid. […] So with all of this, with her bravery, and in spite of everything, in spite of her high profile — she won the Goldman Prize in 2015, she visited the Pope, she was internationally recognized for her work — and even so she was assassinated. This shows that they can assassinate any of us in Honduras.

Due to her work, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had requested precautionary measures for Cáceres since 2009, which the Honduran government only began to partially implement starting in 2013. However, these measures were insufficient, explained Zúñiga Cáceres:

She asked for private security, but they didn’t give it to her because they said it was excessive for her situation. She asked for cameras and they gave her two, but they didn’t even work because when it came time to investigate her assassination, they didn’t record. They gave her police — escorts for when she traveled long distances — and the police were the same that DESA had. […] These were the insufficient, inefficient security measures that the state provided her. And that’s why today I have to be here talking about my mother’s assassination.

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the family has yet to be given access to information regarding the investigation and was denied the right to ask for an expert to be present at the autopsy. She also expressed concern for Gustavo Castro Soto, the only witness to the assassination:

[Gustavo] has been subjected to psychological torture because they left him in the same bloody clothes for 24 hours, they didn’t let him sleep, they haven’t let him return to his country or see anybody, including us. He hasn’t received psychological attention. They even made him travel long distances from my town to the capital several times. So we are worried about the health of the witness. Aside from being a witness, we value his life, because he also fights for life.

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the murder investigation was originally focused on a hypothetical internal conflict within COPINH, ignoring the multiple threats Cáceres had received. The minister of security initially said it was a crime of passion.

So we see the unwillingness the state of Honduras has had in giving us access to and allowing us to participate in the investigation. Because of our distrust, we have asked for a trustworthy independent commission of experts that can investigate and find something out, in order to have some justice in the midst of all of this pain and loss, which is a loss to humanity as well.

The family and COPINH were granted precautionary measures by the IAHCR and personally presented a security plan to the minister of security and minister of governance. Their requests included private security, cameras, a panic button, police escorts for long-distance travel, and an end to the Agua Zarca project, the source of threats against Cáceres, COPINH, and the community. They have yet to receive a response. Likewise, they have not received a response to their request to meet with the president and the attorney general. Additionally, the person making official statements about the case is the chancellor, in charge of foreign affairs, who updates the international community, not the family.

Zúñiga Cáceres closed by stating:

It’s important that it is clear that they are still coming after us, still harassing us, still intimidating us, and that the state of Honduras has done absolutely nothing to protect us, in the same way that they did nothing to protect my mother’s life, who was a caregiver to the world. Today, we have one fewer person protecting life. The world lost Berta Cáceres, and that has to hurt everybody.

Gaspar Sánchez, Member of the General Coordination of COPINH, and the Coordinator for LGBTQ Rights

Sánchez explained that repression of indigenous people and of Honduran social movements has increased since the 2009 coup d’état. In 2010, the Honduran Congress issued concessions for development on rivers, lands for mining, and privatized forests. They did so without a previous free and informed consultation with indigenous communities, violating ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and resulting in illegal and illegitimate acquisitions of land.

COPINH is currently working on 49 of these projects in Lenca territories, Sánchez said, including their fight against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, which began in 2013 and is an example of “development for companies, not for communities.” COPINH has filed complaints against all of these projects, but the Honduran government has not followed-up on the cases nor given a response. Their work has resulted in death threats against Cáceres and other community leaders.

Additionally, Sánchez said the Lenca communities face increased militarization, with police and military forces protecting the interests of companies, not the community, even resulting in deaths. “The state of Honduras lacks the political will to help us or to pay attention to our demands as an organization. Instead, they criminalize us.”

Sánchez explained:

In Honduras, to assassinate or to kill someone, especially if [the killer] is a soldier or police officer, for them it’s a privilege. For soldiers who assassinate human rights defenders, it’s a privilege, they don’t even punish them. That’s another reason why we are here today, so that all of you that live here know that the U.S. also gives a lot of financial support to Honduras for security and strengthening the military. In other words, all the money that has been given for that, there in Honduras it’s converted into repression, it’s converted into assassinations.

Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director, CEJIL

Krsticevic explained that violence and impunity are the norm in Honduras. The threats against Cáceres provided ample warning, and the family and COPINH did what they could, but the local authorities did not protect her. “We don’t want it to be business as usual. We want the deaths of environmental human rights defenders and indigenous leaders to stop here,” she said.

The investigation has been very problematic, Krsticevic said: The crime scene was not secured, there is concern over how Cáceres’ body was moved, the sole witness has been harassed, the lawyer and the family have not had access to the investigation as guaranteed under Honduran law, they didn’t allow a forensic doctor to be present at the autopsy, and they are investigating the assassination as an internal fight within COPINH despite the many documented threats.

“Given the broader context of impunity and the specific problems that are happening with the case of Berta, we think we need something different in order to secure truth and justice and the protection of the family members of Berta and others in COPINH,” Krsticevic said. She explained that several ideas have been floated, including the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH, which is backed by the OAS) or the new Honduran office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, but these “do not have the powers that are needed to pursue a thorough investigation. They cannot actively participate within the criminal process.”

Instead, she continued:

We are asking, and the family members are asking, for a group of experts to be involved and actively participate in the investigation of Berta’s murder. We are thinking of and proposing a group that is similar to what the Mexican government and the family members of the students that disappeared in Ayotzinapa asked from the IAHCR. […] We want something similar for Honduras: a group of international experts that have the credibility, the expertise that is necessary to pursue a reasonable, thorough investigation. What we want is nothing but the truth and nothing but justice.

Annie Bird, Director, Rights and Ecology

Bird explained that, in the 1990s, COPINH worked to successfully pressure the Honduran government to ratify ILO Convention 169 (the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention). But, at the same time, “the international community, the multilateral development banks and USAID, and other development policymakers were advancing changes in land administration policy, which fundamentally undercut any ability to defend the land rights and the rights that were enshrined in ILO 169.”

Bird said that in the early 1990s the system of ejidos — the traditional communal system of land tenure — was changed, giving power to municipal governments to create private land titles and resulting in extreme conflict and many indigenous communities losing land due to theft and the laundering of land titles. This is the case of the land surrounding the Agua Zarca dam: The municipal government extended land titles to people who did not have a right to that land.

For example, when Berta was accused of land usurpation, because of these illegal land titles that had been extended by the municipal government, at the same time COPINH denounced those property owners as having illegally usurped the land. But COPINH’s denouncements were not investigated, whereas there was a forceful criminalization of the land rights defenders.

These changes in the land system, Bird said, coupled with corruption and lack of access to justice have resulted in conflict and violence. This has been further aggravated by massive concessions of hydroelectric and mineral rights and the use of paramilitaries and the military to enforce control of land.

Bird emphasized the need to reexamine land policies that have fueled violence and led to the assassinations of Cáceres, Nelson García, and others, as well as multilateral development banks that fund companies that use paramilitaries to control their land. “This is not in the mandate of these banks; the mandate is to end poverty. But instead it’s fueling violence and fueling poverty.”

Timi Gerson, Director of Advocacy, American Jewish World Service

Gerson summarized the panelists’ concerns and demands:

I think what’s really obvious from all of the presenters is that the Honduran government has shown neither the willingness nor [the] capacity to bring justice, in these cases or in general. And there really are four demands that I want people here to walk away [with]. I think it’s clear that they’re not listening to the voices of indigenous communities in Honduras; they’re certainly not listening to the family of Berta Cáceres, and that’s why we need to add our voices and the voice of the U.S. government to make the Honduran government listen. So really there are four key demands.

One is that there is an independent investigation based on the Mexican model, with the Inter-American Commission hopefully playing a key role as really the only international organization that has the capacity, the expertise, and the mandate to do so. In addition to that is the access of the family to propose these independent experts and to have the access that they should have under Honduran law.

There is the question of protection, that we need to fully fund. The Honduran government needs to fully fund the security plan for the family and the witness, allowing Gustavo to leave, to go back to Mexico. His life is in danger in Honduras right now. He has done his duty in giving his statement and he should be allowed to leave.

Obviously there are questions also of U.S. policy and U.S. aid. The U.S does give security and military aid to Honduras and I think that needs to be questioned, and my organization believes it needs to be suspended, as do about 250 other organizations that signed the letter on this that many of you have seen. In light of these recent human rights abuses I think that there also should be a full review of all bilateral aid to Honduras to see: Is it really responding to the needs or is it, as Annie said, promoting some of these policies that are leading to these deaths?

And the last [demand] really is related to that, which is we really do need to do our part in the U.S. to ensure that we are not funding these projects or supporting them in any way, both in our context as the U.S. government as an aid donor, but also in the multilateral context.

Question and answer session

Even if there is third party pressure, what are the chances of the Honduran government allowing access to the investigation?

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the Honduran government should allow access, but they will need to be pressured because there’s currently no political will to do so.

Krsticevic expressed that political will is constructed over time and they are still hopeful that the Honduran government will do the right thing. She noted that the Mexican government agreed to the group of independent experts and designated over a million dollars to fund the investigation. She stressed again the necessity of an independent investigation in Honduras.

Bird said that the Honduran government has shown no political will to investigate the assassinations of other land rights activists or to reform the justice system. She emphasized the responsibility of the international community to pressure the Honduran government to reform its justice system:

We cannot continue to separate development from justice. There will never be development; there will never be an end to poverty when the justice systems do not work. Any land tenancy reform or administration process that we’re promoting will be fundamentally flawed if the justice system is not functional. And so it’s absolutely important that the Honduran government — and not just the government, but the business community here — that [if] they do not allow the international community to help them fix what is the most broken system in the continent, then they cannot continue to receive international investment. That’s the message that needs to be heard.

What can the international community, specifically the U.S., do to try to correct the issues with Honduran security forces?

Zúñiga Cáceres said that the first step is to clean up the corrupt security forces, though this is further complicated by the fact that the state is also corrupt. She said that the police and military should leave the indigenous territories, where they are doing more harm than good:

We take care of ourselves. We respect our rights and we have a worldview relating to justice. And what they’re doing now, by positioning themselves within our territories, is attacking us. That’s why we don’t want the police and soldiers to come [to our territory]. They are the ones affecting us. We, as an indigenous community, have our ways of ensuring justice and security within our territories. We don’t need outsiders coming in, as they have always done, to tell us how to do things.

She continued that the police and soldiers are also a threat to women in the community:

As women, the police are a danger to us. I’m not saying this because they told me about it, I am telling you because I am a woman and I live in Honduras. We experience harassment walking down the street, by the police themselves. […] We are afraid of the police and soldiers.

She argued that what would help would be to cut off U.S. aid to security forces, which she characterized as “a lack of respect” by the U.S. by funding human rights violations.

Sánchez added:

One of the things that we also think is important is for the international community to demand that the [Honduran] government punish the people responsible for the assassinations, especially the police and soldiers that have assassinated environmental human rights defenders. Because they aren’t being punished, they’re free and they haven’t been imprisoned or prosecuted.

In the world’s most dangerous country for environmental activists, Honduran indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home in the early hours of March 3. Winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her relentless opposition to the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, which would have threatened the livelihoods of indigenous communities in the area, Cáceres had received numerous threats to her life in connection with her work.

In examining cases of journalists murdered since 2003, PEN International noted that Honduras has an impunity rate of 95 percent, a figure that has risen dramatically since a military coup in 2009. Honduras is even more deadly for environmentalists; at least 109 of them were murdered in Honduras between 2010 and 2015. As over 100 members of the U.S. Congress have pointed out, women, indigenous Hondurans, the LGBT community, Hondurans of African descent and other minorities have also been targeted.

The coup regime and its U.S.-backed successors have been accused on multiple occasions of complicity in targeted assassinations and other forms of political violence. Cáceres’ family members believe the Honduran government is manipulating the investigation into her assassination for political ends, while the sole witness, Mexican activist Gustavo Castro Soto, has been prevented from leaving the country and, according to his lawyer, fears he may be framed for the crime.

In this video, CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot discusses presidential candidate and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s record on Honduras and contrasts it with the positions taken by Democratic rival Bernie Sanders.

 

Watch the video here.

In the world’s most dangerous country for environmental activists, Honduran indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home in the early hours of March 3. Winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her relentless opposition to the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, which would have threatened the livelihoods of indigenous communities in the area, Cáceres had received numerous threats to her life in connection with her work.

In examining cases of journalists murdered since 2003, PEN International noted that Honduras has an impunity rate of 95 percent, a figure that has risen dramatically since a military coup in 2009. Honduras is even more deadly for environmentalists; at least 109 of them were murdered in Honduras between 2010 and 2015. As over 100 members of the U.S. Congress have pointed out, women, indigenous Hondurans, the LGBT community, Hondurans of African descent and other minorities have also been targeted.

The coup regime and its U.S.-backed successors have been accused on multiple occasions of complicity in targeted assassinations and other forms of political violence. Cáceres’ family members believe the Honduran government is manipulating the investigation into her assassination for political ends, while the sole witness, Mexican activist Gustavo Castro Soto, has been prevented from leaving the country and, according to his lawyer, fears he may be framed for the crime.

In this video, CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot discusses presidential candidate and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s record on Honduras and contrasts it with the positions taken by Democratic rival Bernie Sanders.

 

Watch the video here.

Writer and filmmaker Pablo Villaça has weighed in with a scathing assessment of what appears to be a concerted effort between the Brazilian opposition, the Supreme Court and the national media to remove President Dilma Rousseff from office over her alleged manipulation of government accounts. Rousseff’s administration has been marred by a combination of economic recession, austerity measures and a growing corruption scandal involving state oil company Petrobras and top officials in her center-left Workers Party (PT).

There is no doubt that some officials within the PT have been heavily involved in corruption. Yet there is no lack of irony in the notion that Brazil’s centrist and right-wing opposition might sincerely be lending a helping hand to anti-corruption efforts. As The Intercept has astutely noted, most of the opposition parties working to impeach Rousseff are themselves “drowning in at least an equal amount of criminality” for the explicit purpose of personal gain – which Rousseff is not accused of, as Glenn Greenwald explains:

The irony of this widespread corruption is that President Rousseff herself is really the only significant politician, or one of the only significant politicians, in Brazil not to be implicated in any sort of corruption scheme for the—with the objective of personal enrichment. Everyone around her, virtually, including those trying to bring her government down and accuse her of corruption and impeach her, is implicated very seriously in schemes of corruption for personal enrichment. She’s essentially one of the only people who isn’t implicated that way.

Questions must be asked as to whether, having been kept out of office by the PT’s electoral successes since 2003, the opposition and its mostly elite and upper-middle-class supporters have now turned to other means in their latest attempt to recapture the presidency.

And as Villaça points out, the Brazilian news media’s predictable failure to meet any standard of objectivity regarding Rousseff and the PT has manifested itself yet again. The following graphs from independent media critics Manchetômetro are particularly illustrative. The first shows predominantly negative print coverage of Rousseff week after week, while the second demonstrates a consistent tendency among the print media to present the PT through a much more critical lens than any of the other major parties.

Print media balance to Mar 19

“Balance in print publications. In this graph we have the number of favorable, neutral and unfavorable articles relating to Dilma Rousseff over the last 12 weeks.”

Print media against PT to Mar 19
“Negative coverage: print publications. In this graph we have the number of articles with an unfavorable view of each political party over the last 12 weeks.”

As we found during the 2014 elections, the Brazilian media’s open hostility to the PT, Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is nothing new: A clear and persistent bias against the PT and its candidates dates back as far as the 1990s, when then President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the center-right PSDB received much more favorable coverage than Lula or Rousseff.

Writing on March 7, Villaça makes his case:

Those of you that have been following me for a while know that I often write about the need for serenity in politics. I have said countless times that It is not acceptable to treat political opponents as enemies. I have pointed out that violence undermines the political debate.

This posture has always come naturally and effortlessly to me. But unfortunately, in the last few days, I have to force myself to keep my cool. If the events of Thursday and Friday [March 3 and 4] achieved anything, it was to radicalize even those who took pride in their moderation.

On Thursday [March 3], a plea-bargaining statement, not yet approved by the Supreme Court (and even if it were, it should be confidential) was leaked to the news magazine Isto É. While the alleged informant refused to confirm it, the Attorney-General, who was supposed to take the statement, was even more emphatic: he denied its existence. This has not prevented Globo network and its accomplices from transforming the so-called statement into a massive headline scoop. If the informant, Senator Delcídio Amaral, was previously portrayed as unscrupulous, all of the sudden his word became law –no more evidence was required. Delcídio has said it, and that was that. Until, of course, he refused to confirm the statement, and was, once again, summarily ignored.

Around 2am on Friday, the editor of the news magazine Época (linked to Globo), who has long ceased to even pretend to have any journalistic objectivity, tweeted twice about an operation from the Federal Police that would take place hours later. An operation that should be confidential, but that was leaked to the press ten days ago (as blogger Eduardo Guimarães had warned a week before). Before the Federal Police arrived at Lula’s home, a Globo helicopter flew over it, and Folha reporters were waiting at the door. Yet the LAWYERS of the former president had not been notified.

But the worst abuse was yet to come: Lula was subjected to the humiliation of being detained for questioning, even though he had not been previously summoned to testify. The abuse was so egregious that two Supreme Court Justices (one of them a critic of the left) have condemned the action.  Respected jurists and even (gasp) a founder of the opposition party PSDB, Bresser Pereira, have also condemned it.

The abuse, of course, was ignored by Globo and its cronies. The Jornal National has even extended its broadcasting for half an hour to celebrate the operation. When the Workers’ Party headquarters was attacked in Belo Horizonte on Saturday, Globo labelled it a protest, when it was clearly an act of violence. When similar events happened in another state capital, the channel actually INTERVIEWED the “demonstrators.”

Read the rest here.

Writer and filmmaker Pablo Villaça has weighed in with a scathing assessment of what appears to be a concerted effort between the Brazilian opposition, the Supreme Court and the national media to remove President Dilma Rousseff from office over her alleged manipulation of government accounts. Rousseff’s administration has been marred by a combination of economic recession, austerity measures and a growing corruption scandal involving state oil company Petrobras and top officials in her center-left Workers Party (PT).

There is no doubt that some officials within the PT have been heavily involved in corruption. Yet there is no lack of irony in the notion that Brazil’s centrist and right-wing opposition might sincerely be lending a helping hand to anti-corruption efforts. As The Intercept has astutely noted, most of the opposition parties working to impeach Rousseff are themselves “drowning in at least an equal amount of criminality” for the explicit purpose of personal gain – which Rousseff is not accused of, as Glenn Greenwald explains:

The irony of this widespread corruption is that President Rousseff herself is really the only significant politician, or one of the only significant politicians, in Brazil not to be implicated in any sort of corruption scheme for the—with the objective of personal enrichment. Everyone around her, virtually, including those trying to bring her government down and accuse her of corruption and impeach her, is implicated very seriously in schemes of corruption for personal enrichment. She’s essentially one of the only people who isn’t implicated that way.

Questions must be asked as to whether, having been kept out of office by the PT’s electoral successes since 2003, the opposition and its mostly elite and upper-middle-class supporters have now turned to other means in their latest attempt to recapture the presidency.

And as Villaça points out, the Brazilian news media’s predictable failure to meet any standard of objectivity regarding Rousseff and the PT has manifested itself yet again. The following graphs from independent media critics Manchetômetro are particularly illustrative. The first shows predominantly negative print coverage of Rousseff week after week, while the second demonstrates a consistent tendency among the print media to present the PT through a much more critical lens than any of the other major parties.

Print media balance to Mar 19

“Balance in print publications. In this graph we have the number of favorable, neutral and unfavorable articles relating to Dilma Rousseff over the last 12 weeks.”

Print media against PT to Mar 19
“Negative coverage: print publications. In this graph we have the number of articles with an unfavorable view of each political party over the last 12 weeks.”

As we found during the 2014 elections, the Brazilian media’s open hostility to the PT, Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is nothing new: A clear and persistent bias against the PT and its candidates dates back as far as the 1990s, when then President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the center-right PSDB received much more favorable coverage than Lula or Rousseff.

Writing on March 7, Villaça makes his case:

Those of you that have been following me for a while know that I often write about the need for serenity in politics. I have said countless times that It is not acceptable to treat political opponents as enemies. I have pointed out that violence undermines the political debate.

This posture has always come naturally and effortlessly to me. But unfortunately, in the last few days, I have to force myself to keep my cool. If the events of Thursday and Friday [March 3 and 4] achieved anything, it was to radicalize even those who took pride in their moderation.

On Thursday [March 3], a plea-bargaining statement, not yet approved by the Supreme Court (and even if it were, it should be confidential) was leaked to the news magazine Isto É. While the alleged informant refused to confirm it, the Attorney-General, who was supposed to take the statement, was even more emphatic: he denied its existence. This has not prevented Globo network and its accomplices from transforming the so-called statement into a massive headline scoop. If the informant, Senator Delcídio Amaral, was previously portrayed as unscrupulous, all of the sudden his word became law –no more evidence was required. Delcídio has said it, and that was that. Until, of course, he refused to confirm the statement, and was, once again, summarily ignored.

Around 2am on Friday, the editor of the news magazine Época (linked to Globo), who has long ceased to even pretend to have any journalistic objectivity, tweeted twice about an operation from the Federal Police that would take place hours later. An operation that should be confidential, but that was leaked to the press ten days ago (as blogger Eduardo Guimarães had warned a week before). Before the Federal Police arrived at Lula’s home, a Globo helicopter flew over it, and Folha reporters were waiting at the door. Yet the LAWYERS of the former president had not been notified.

But the worst abuse was yet to come: Lula was subjected to the humiliation of being detained for questioning, even though he had not been previously summoned to testify. The abuse was so egregious that two Supreme Court Justices (one of them a critic of the left) have condemned the action.  Respected jurists and even (gasp) a founder of the opposition party PSDB, Bresser Pereira, have also condemned it.

The abuse, of course, was ignored by Globo and its cronies. The Jornal National has even extended its broadcasting for half an hour to celebrate the operation. When the Workers’ Party headquarters was attacked in Belo Horizonte on Saturday, Globo labelled it a protest, when it was clearly an act of violence. When similar events happened in another state capital, the channel actually INTERVIEWED the “demonstrators.”

Read the rest here.

Rumor has it that Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign is set to name hedge fund manager Paul Singer as its national finance chairman. The potential move may represent a belated attempt by the Republican establishment to rally behind Rubio in order to derail Donald Trump’s presidential bid, as Politico’s Mike Allen has suggested. It also draws the Florida senator ever closer to his second largest financial backer – who has incidentally just emerged victorious from a decade-long campaign to extract an exorbitant return from Argentina after its financial crisis of 2001.

Almost three years after Argentina defied a New York court ruling that would have forced the country to choose between default and certain bankruptcy, Argentine President Mauricio Macri reached a settlement on Monday with a small group of holdout creditors led by Singer’s Elliott Management. The deal still needs to be approved by the Argentine National Congress, which is set to vote on repealing two laws that currently prevent the country from paying these vulture funds.

Despite having already settled with 93 percent of its creditors through two debt restructurings in 2005 and 2010, paying them 30 percent of the face value of the debt, Argentina still faced Singer’s group of vulture funds, who had no intention of settling under those terms. This week’s settlement will see the country pay out $4.65 billion, amounting to 75 percent of principal and interest, to Singer and company.

The vulture funds’ victory is the predictable outcome of a prolonged campaign aimed at extracting every dollar out of Argentina by all available means. Elliott Management used a Ghanaian court order to detain an Argentine navy ship in Ghana for 10 weeks in 2012. It has also channeled funds into American Task Force Argentina (ATFA), a lobby group pushing for the full repayment of Argentine debts. Part of ATFA’s efforts include an international smear campaign against the Argentine government, which it has accused of antisemitism, ties to drug traffickers and covering up Iranian involvement in the bombing of the AMIA building in Buenos Aires in 1994. ATFA has spent more than $7 million on these campaigns since 2007.

Singer then turned to a New York court, scoring a major victory when Judge Thomas Griesa ruled that Argentina could not make payments to the 93 percent of bondholders who had accepted restructuring until it had paid the 7 percent of holdouts in full. Argentina could afford to pay off both parties under the agreed terms. However, if it repaid Singer’s group in full, bondholders who accepted the restructuring would also demand to be repaid in full. That could end up costing the nation some $120 billion – which it could not possibly afford.

As we have documented, Argentina’s original default in 2002 was a necessary step in order for its economy to recover. Despite having limited access to international financial markets, Argentina was able to deviate from the IMF’s neoliberal remedies and instead drastically increase social spending to stimulate the economy, with impressive results: it emerged from economic depression within three months and returned to pre-2001 GDP levels within three years, such was its rate of growth. Those who accepted the restructuring in 2005 were given extra payouts when GDP growth exceeded a certain threshold, meaning the economic recovery allowed bondholders to obtain a nice profit.

Faced with default despite being willing and able to continue servicing its debt, Argentina’s only option was to defy the court order. Although the state had deposited $539 million with the Bank of New York to repay the holders of the restructured bonds, these funds were being held hostage by Singer and his affiliates, with the blessing of Judge Griesa. But these creditors had never lent Argentina money in the first place. Instead, they had simply bought Argentine bonds from their previous holders at sharply discounted rates for the sole purpose of speculation and litigation, exploiting an economically distressed country to reap massive financial returns – the very definition of a vulture fund.

This latest settlement sets a worrying precedent: in return for their ruthless persistence, the vulture funds are being rewarded with gains of up to 900 percent on principal investment – without even accounting for interest, which amounts to 101 percent per year, multiplied by 10 years. The real return is likely even higher, as Argentine debt was in many cases bought for mere cents on the dollar. Using a combination of court cases, relentless lobbying and smear campaigns, the investors have firmly established that mobilizing all available legal and financial resources over a prolonged period is enough to guarantee a handsome windfall, especially with the accumulation of interest. Following Singer’s example, emboldened investors will now have little reason to accept restructuring when perseverance, it appears, will earn them the returns that they want.

It seems hardly a coincidence, then, that Marco Rubio, the recipient of $124,420 from Elliott Management over five years leading up to 2014, has been at the forefront of efforts to discredit the previous Argentine government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. While questioning Noah Mamet, now ambassador to Argentina, he launched a scathing indictment of Fernández’s administration in which he openly disputed its democratic institutions and whether it truly constituted an “ally” of the United States. Last May, he introduced a Senate resolution that notably took issue with “Iran’s terrorist network in Argentina, the United States, and all of the Western Hemisphere” while – apparently without irony – accusing President Fernández of inventing  “imaginary conspiracies” at the same time.

With Fernández now gone, and her right-wing successor Macri wasting no time in agreeing to terms with Elliott Management, Rubio’s mission in Argentina appears accomplished.

Rumor has it that Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign is set to name hedge fund manager Paul Singer as its national finance chairman. The potential move may represent a belated attempt by the Republican establishment to rally behind Rubio in order to derail Donald Trump’s presidential bid, as Politico’s Mike Allen has suggested. It also draws the Florida senator ever closer to his second largest financial backer – who has incidentally just emerged victorious from a decade-long campaign to extract an exorbitant return from Argentina after its financial crisis of 2001.

Almost three years after Argentina defied a New York court ruling that would have forced the country to choose between default and certain bankruptcy, Argentine President Mauricio Macri reached a settlement on Monday with a small group of holdout creditors led by Singer’s Elliott Management. The deal still needs to be approved by the Argentine National Congress, which is set to vote on repealing two laws that currently prevent the country from paying these vulture funds.

Despite having already settled with 93 percent of its creditors through two debt restructurings in 2005 and 2010, paying them 30 percent of the face value of the debt, Argentina still faced Singer’s group of vulture funds, who had no intention of settling under those terms. This week’s settlement will see the country pay out $4.65 billion, amounting to 75 percent of principal and interest, to Singer and company.

The vulture funds’ victory is the predictable outcome of a prolonged campaign aimed at extracting every dollar out of Argentina by all available means. Elliott Management used a Ghanaian court order to detain an Argentine navy ship in Ghana for 10 weeks in 2012. It has also channeled funds into American Task Force Argentina (ATFA), a lobby group pushing for the full repayment of Argentine debts. Part of ATFA’s efforts include an international smear campaign against the Argentine government, which it has accused of antisemitism, ties to drug traffickers and covering up Iranian involvement in the bombing of the AMIA building in Buenos Aires in 1994. ATFA has spent more than $7 million on these campaigns since 2007.

Singer then turned to a New York court, scoring a major victory when Judge Thomas Griesa ruled that Argentina could not make payments to the 93 percent of bondholders who had accepted restructuring until it had paid the 7 percent of holdouts in full. Argentina could afford to pay off both parties under the agreed terms. However, if it repaid Singer’s group in full, bondholders who accepted the restructuring would also demand to be repaid in full. That could end up costing the nation some $120 billion – which it could not possibly afford.

As we have documented, Argentina’s original default in 2002 was a necessary step in order for its economy to recover. Despite having limited access to international financial markets, Argentina was able to deviate from the IMF’s neoliberal remedies and instead drastically increase social spending to stimulate the economy, with impressive results: it emerged from economic depression within three months and returned to pre-2001 GDP levels within three years, such was its rate of growth. Those who accepted the restructuring in 2005 were given extra payouts when GDP growth exceeded a certain threshold, meaning the economic recovery allowed bondholders to obtain a nice profit.

Faced with default despite being willing and able to continue servicing its debt, Argentina’s only option was to defy the court order. Although the state had deposited $539 million with the Bank of New York to repay the holders of the restructured bonds, these funds were being held hostage by Singer and his affiliates, with the blessing of Judge Griesa. But these creditors had never lent Argentina money in the first place. Instead, they had simply bought Argentine bonds from their previous holders at sharply discounted rates for the sole purpose of speculation and litigation, exploiting an economically distressed country to reap massive financial returns – the very definition of a vulture fund.

This latest settlement sets a worrying precedent: in return for their ruthless persistence, the vulture funds are being rewarded with gains of up to 900 percent on principal investment – without even accounting for interest, which amounts to 101 percent per year, multiplied by 10 years. The real return is likely even higher, as Argentine debt was in many cases bought for mere cents on the dollar. Using a combination of court cases, relentless lobbying and smear campaigns, the investors have firmly established that mobilizing all available legal and financial resources over a prolonged period is enough to guarantee a handsome windfall, especially with the accumulation of interest. Following Singer’s example, emboldened investors will now have little reason to accept restructuring when perseverance, it appears, will earn them the returns that they want.

It seems hardly a coincidence, then, that Marco Rubio, the recipient of $124,420 from Elliott Management over five years leading up to 2014, has been at the forefront of efforts to discredit the previous Argentine government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. While questioning Noah Mamet, now ambassador to Argentina, he launched a scathing indictment of Fernández’s administration in which he openly disputed its democratic institutions and whether it truly constituted an “ally” of the United States. Last May, he introduced a Senate resolution that notably took issue with “Iran’s terrorist network in Argentina, the United States, and all of the Western Hemisphere” while – apparently without irony – accusing President Fernández of inventing  “imaginary conspiracies” at the same time.

With Fernández now gone, and her right-wing successor Macri wasting no time in agreeing to terms with Elliott Management, Rubio’s mission in Argentina appears accomplished.

Last summer, massive protests erupted in Honduras following revelations that hundreds of millions of dollars belonging to the country’s national health service had been siphoned off by officials from the ruling National Party. In neighboring Guatemala, similar protests, sparked by a similar corruption scandal, raged for much of the summer and led to the resignation and arrest of President Otto Pérez Molina. Following a far-reaching investigation by Guatemala’s International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG, by its Spanish acronym), Pérez and former Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti were charged with running a vast customs corruption network, and were jailed pending their respective trials.

In Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernández remains firmly in place despite evidence that much of the embezzled public funds had been used for his 2013 presidential campaign. To try to placate the protesters, Hernández worked with the Organization of American States (OAS) on a joint proposal for a so-called Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH, by its Spanish acronym). But protest leaders, and most Honduran human rights organizations, have rejected Hernández’s proposal, considering it far too weak to effectively take on Honduras’ rampant corruption and impunity, and not sufficiently independent. Instead, they have called for the creation of a United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras (or CICIH), modeled on Guatemala’s CICIG.

Critics of the OAS/Hernández proposal have pointed out that, in contrast with a CICIG-like entity, the MACCIH — as it is currently proposed — would lack the mandate and capacity to carry out judicial investigations and prosecutions, and instead would merely offer recommendations of reforms that the government is unlikely to ever implement (if past experience is any guide).   

On December 4, Congressman José Serrano and 53 of his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives backed these demands in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to support the creation of a CICIH. In a separate statement Serrano said:

We cannot expect to fully address issues of violence and instability in Honduras when people do not feel as though they can trust their government or judicial system. It is time to establish an independent commission to root out corruption and restore trust.

Indeed, the extreme levels of corruption and violent crime in Honduras are matched by appalling rates of impunity. The northeastern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula has the highest homicide rate in the world and dozens of journalists, lawyers, and activists have been killed in recent years. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said that impunity for these and other crimes “ranges between 95 and 98 percent.” The country’s security forces are widely recognized to be deeply infiltrated by organized crime groups and involved in extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations. The country’s judiciary is considered to be weak and is largely controlled by the ruling National Party, which illegally replaced top judges with allies in late 2012.

Perhaps most troubling of all is the fact that the Honduran administration has shown no interest in taking real measures to reform its security forces or the country’s corrupt judiciary. A widely respected independent police reform commission was dissolved by the ruling party in January of 2013, and none of its proposals were taken into account. Under increasing international pressure, the Hernández government has repeatedly announced its own police reform, which appears to mostly involve a partial administrative reshuffling of Honduras’ law enforcement institutions.

Despite all these problems, the U.S. government has continued to throw its support behind Hernández, and sources indicate that they back the MACCIH proposal as well, despite the overwhelming opposition of Honduran human rights advocates. Many of the groups that oppose the MACCIH and support a CICIH are part of the Coalition Against Impunity, which includes the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), Judges for Democracy, the Center for Women’s Rights (Centro de Derechos de Mujeres — CDM), the Committee for the Relatives of Disappeared Migrants of El Progreso, the Freedom of Speech Committee (C-LIBRE), Team of Reflection, Investigation and Communication (Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación — ERIC), the National Network for Honduran Women Human Rights Defenders, and many others.

In a November statement the Coalition argued that a MACCIH would:

[be] limited in its ability to attack corruption and impunity in the country. Its main purpose is to supervise and give technical support to the Public Ministry and the Justice System through the support of a group of ex-prosecutors and international jurists; preparing a diagnosis of the current situation of justice in Honduras; accompanying the implementation of the Interamerican Convention against Corruption; and the creation of a justice observatory.

And

[lack] an effective mandate to strongly and decidedly attack the scandalous corruption that is corroding the public institutions of Honduras, not to mention the tremendous limitations — that have been laid out — to attack impunity and dismantle criminal structures that function parallel to the state apparatus.

The Coalition also notes that the MACCIH proposal has been developed without consultation of, or input from civil society groups other than those that have close relations with the ruling National Party.

The statement explains:

Instead of a MACCIH, the Coalition Against Impunity, together with other organizations, advocates for a mechanism like the CICIG, underscoring the importance of a similar mandate and the transfer of experience that we could use in our country. We demand an International Commission Against Impunity, with a mandate that includes the following:

  -Political independence and financial autonomy to avoid any interference or limitation of its actions.

  -Capacity to investigate and gather evidence of criminal acts and illegal structures that function in the state apparatus. These should be provided to the Public Ministry to strengthen its prosecution abilities.

 -The capacity for criminal prosecution together with the Public Ministry in emblematic cases of corruption, impunity, or extreme human rights violations.

 -Building capacity of the Public Ministry and Judicial apparatus.

 -Development of proposals to support the necessary reforms in the Honduran judicial system.  

The marked weaknesses of the institutions in the Honduran judicial system currently demand the installation of an independent International Commission with a high level of technical and legal capacity to contribute to an efficient and committed struggle against corruption and impunity.

Some U.S. analysts have argued that a CICIG-like entity wouldn’t be able to quickly address Honduras’ rampant corruption and impunity.

The reality is that there are no quick fixes for Honduras, and simply painting over the country’s problems with ineffective measures will not improve the situation. And, as the Coalition Against Impunity has pointed out, a CICIH, rather than starting completely from scratch, would be able to benefit from a “transfer of experience” from the CICIG.

Last summer, massive protests erupted in Honduras following revelations that hundreds of millions of dollars belonging to the country’s national health service had been siphoned off by officials from the ruling National Party. In neighboring Guatemala, similar protests, sparked by a similar corruption scandal, raged for much of the summer and led to the resignation and arrest of President Otto Pérez Molina. Following a far-reaching investigation by Guatemala’s International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG, by its Spanish acronym), Pérez and former Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti were charged with running a vast customs corruption network, and were jailed pending their respective trials.

In Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernández remains firmly in place despite evidence that much of the embezzled public funds had been used for his 2013 presidential campaign. To try to placate the protesters, Hernández worked with the Organization of American States (OAS) on a joint proposal for a so-called Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH, by its Spanish acronym). But protest leaders, and most Honduran human rights organizations, have rejected Hernández’s proposal, considering it far too weak to effectively take on Honduras’ rampant corruption and impunity, and not sufficiently independent. Instead, they have called for the creation of a United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras (or CICIH), modeled on Guatemala’s CICIG.

Critics of the OAS/Hernández proposal have pointed out that, in contrast with a CICIG-like entity, the MACCIH — as it is currently proposed — would lack the mandate and capacity to carry out judicial investigations and prosecutions, and instead would merely offer recommendations of reforms that the government is unlikely to ever implement (if past experience is any guide).   

On December 4, Congressman José Serrano and 53 of his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives backed these demands in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to support the creation of a CICIH. In a separate statement Serrano said:

We cannot expect to fully address issues of violence and instability in Honduras when people do not feel as though they can trust their government or judicial system. It is time to establish an independent commission to root out corruption and restore trust.

Indeed, the extreme levels of corruption and violent crime in Honduras are matched by appalling rates of impunity. The northeastern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula has the highest homicide rate in the world and dozens of journalists, lawyers, and activists have been killed in recent years. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said that impunity for these and other crimes “ranges between 95 and 98 percent.” The country’s security forces are widely recognized to be deeply infiltrated by organized crime groups and involved in extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations. The country’s judiciary is considered to be weak and is largely controlled by the ruling National Party, which illegally replaced top judges with allies in late 2012.

Perhaps most troubling of all is the fact that the Honduran administration has shown no interest in taking real measures to reform its security forces or the country’s corrupt judiciary. A widely respected independent police reform commission was dissolved by the ruling party in January of 2013, and none of its proposals were taken into account. Under increasing international pressure, the Hernández government has repeatedly announced its own police reform, which appears to mostly involve a partial administrative reshuffling of Honduras’ law enforcement institutions.

Despite all these problems, the U.S. government has continued to throw its support behind Hernández, and sources indicate that they back the MACCIH proposal as well, despite the overwhelming opposition of Honduran human rights advocates. Many of the groups that oppose the MACCIH and support a CICIH are part of the Coalition Against Impunity, which includes the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), Judges for Democracy, the Center for Women’s Rights (Centro de Derechos de Mujeres — CDM), the Committee for the Relatives of Disappeared Migrants of El Progreso, the Freedom of Speech Committee (C-LIBRE), Team of Reflection, Investigation and Communication (Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación — ERIC), the National Network for Honduran Women Human Rights Defenders, and many others.

In a November statement the Coalition argued that a MACCIH would:

[be] limited in its ability to attack corruption and impunity in the country. Its main purpose is to supervise and give technical support to the Public Ministry and the Justice System through the support of a group of ex-prosecutors and international jurists; preparing a diagnosis of the current situation of justice in Honduras; accompanying the implementation of the Interamerican Convention against Corruption; and the creation of a justice observatory.

And

[lack] an effective mandate to strongly and decidedly attack the scandalous corruption that is corroding the public institutions of Honduras, not to mention the tremendous limitations — that have been laid out — to attack impunity and dismantle criminal structures that function parallel to the state apparatus.

The Coalition also notes that the MACCIH proposal has been developed without consultation of, or input from civil society groups other than those that have close relations with the ruling National Party.

The statement explains:

Instead of a MACCIH, the Coalition Against Impunity, together with other organizations, advocates for a mechanism like the CICIG, underscoring the importance of a similar mandate and the transfer of experience that we could use in our country. We demand an International Commission Against Impunity, with a mandate that includes the following:

  -Political independence and financial autonomy to avoid any interference or limitation of its actions.

  -Capacity to investigate and gather evidence of criminal acts and illegal structures that function in the state apparatus. These should be provided to the Public Ministry to strengthen its prosecution abilities.

 -The capacity for criminal prosecution together with the Public Ministry in emblematic cases of corruption, impunity, or extreme human rights violations.

 -Building capacity of the Public Ministry and Judicial apparatus.

 -Development of proposals to support the necessary reforms in the Honduran judicial system.  

The marked weaknesses of the institutions in the Honduran judicial system currently demand the installation of an independent International Commission with a high level of technical and legal capacity to contribute to an efficient and committed struggle against corruption and impunity.

Some U.S. analysts have argued that a CICIG-like entity wouldn’t be able to quickly address Honduras’ rampant corruption and impunity.

The reality is that there are no quick fixes for Honduras, and simply painting over the country’s problems with ineffective measures will not improve the situation. And, as the Coalition Against Impunity has pointed out, a CICIH, rather than starting completely from scratch, would be able to benefit from a “transfer of experience” from the CICIG.

Update 12:12 AM: President Nicolas Maduro stated in an address that “we accept” the results, as he had pledged he would.

Update: 12:08 AM (December 7, EST): With participation of almost 75 percent, the CNE has announced that the MUD (opposition coalition has won 99 seats, while the pro-government coalition has won 46. Nineteen seats are to be announced.

Update 11:58 PM (EST): CNE announcement of results beginning. Watch live here. CNE President Tibisay Lucena says process was “clean and reliable.”

Update 11:31 PM (EST): The CNE is expected to announce results within minutes.

Update 10:42 PM (EST): Venezuela Analysis reports that a CNE official was attacked in Chacao, Miranda state, while trying to enter a voting center, a few hours ago, with people chasing him shouting “kill him, kill him.” Watch the video here.

Update 9:46 PM (EST): Stay posted. Official results are expected soon. Meanwhile, social media is abuzz over the opposition’s unofficial claims of victory, helping to create a potentially dangerous situation.

Update 9:37 PM (EST): In an earlier press conference, Venezuela’s defense minister said that there have been “72 electoral incidents,” of which seven were electoral crimes, and seven individuals arrested.

Update 8:53 PM (EST): Venezuela Analysis notes “Opposition leaders such as Henrique Capriles are celebrating their win on Twitter,” and Reuters is likewise reporting:

But the celebration is premature, since, as Reuters notes as the CNE has not announced results yet. Such premature announcements are reminiscent of past elections, such as in 2013, when Capriles cried foul and accused the authorities of a plot to rob him of the election even before results were announced.

Also reminiscent of 2013’s elections are attacks on social media accounts of people and outlets considered to be chavista.

Update 8:09 PM (EST): Opal Tometi tweeted:

Update 8:06 PM (EST): A monitor in Catia sent us this ballot verification update at 7:41:

Ballot verification in Gato Negro, Catia.This is a print out of what will be transmitted to the CNE from sector Gato Negro in Catia. It has been signed by the director, technician, and two witnesses, among others.

Update 7:45 PM (EST): A monitor in Carabobo state sent a summary report of what he witnessed today:

The spirit in all 5 voting centers visited in Carabobo by international observers was one of tranquility, civility, a palpable sense of civic duty, and an overall relaxed environment despite an evenly divided electorate. There were occasional delays at some tables due to voter unfamiliarity with touchscreen and technical issues with voting equipment.

Voters in Carabobo state.The prevalence of older voters, including those that required accompaniment from a friend or family member, seemed to slow the process as they often required individualized instructions from poll workers. Although Venezuela’s government tried to familiarize voters by bringing voting machines to public spaces in the last few months, not all had experienced the most recent touchscreen setup.

Opposition voters were more likely to complain because of delays. As one man sourly stated after an equipment-based delay made his table’s line stop moving: “We wait hours in line for food, we’ll wait hours if need be to vote.”

Out of the approximately 60 votes this observer witnessed pass through the process, one was a null or blank vote due to unknown reasons (whether poll worker error, voter error, or equipment failure). The woman claiming her vote was not captured became angry and loudly complained before calming down, finishing the final two steps verifying that she had voted, and declaring, “We’re still going to win.” There appeared to be no reason to believe her null vote was the result of anything nefarious, but her comment summarized the election’s dominant narrative as expressed by many in the opposition, their media, the U.S. government and the majority of U.S. media: systemic fraud despite any evidence or even a theory of fraud. Nevertheless, things have remained peaceful and we hope that continues as the close results are announced.?

Instructions not to hit "vote" the vote has been verified.

(Instructions not to hit “vote” until every vote has been verified, as the machine will ask for verification if a vote is missing.)

Update 7:31 PM (EST): A monitor in Caracas reported at 7:15:

We are on our way to watch a citizen audit at one voting center.

As you know, 54% of tables will have electronic results compared to the paper count of ballot boxes. This means that about half or more of tables at EVERY voting center will do this in front of witnesses from parties, and sometimes anyone else who wants to watch.

[Correction: While this monitor had previously been in Carabobo state, as we originally reported, he is now in Caracas.]

Update 7:22 PM (EST): Telesur denounces what it says were brief hacks of its social media accounts from U.S.-based IP addresses.

Update 7:05 PM (EST): Venezuela Analysis notes: “Henrique Capriles now claims the lines outside voting centers are being faked on television, and continues to tell supporters to close centers.”

Update 6:50 PM (EST): Social media is heating up with opposition demands for polling centers to close now that’s past 7:00, regardless of whether anyone is in line to vote. For example, this tweet purportedly shows opposition activists going to a polling station in Barinas (where the late President Hugo Chavez’s brother Adan is governor) to demand it close:


However, Article 121 of the law governing electoral processes [PDF] states:

Las mesas electorales funcionarán de seis de la mañana (6:00 a.m.), hasta las seis de la tarde (6:00 p.m.), del día y se mantendrán abiertas mientras haya electoras y electores en espera por sufragar.

Translation: The polling stations will operate from six in the morning (6:00 am), until six in the evening (6:00 pm),  and will remain open as long as voters are waiting to vote.

Update 6:37 PM (EST): Opal Tometi, monitoring the elections today, Tweeted earlier:

Update 6:23 PM (EST): International election accompaniers are speaking, presenting their take on the election process today. Watch Telesur live.

Update 6:20 PM (EST): Venezuela Analysis notes that opposition leader (and former presidential candidate) Henrique Capriles has called on supporters to go to voting centers and urge their closure as long as no one is in line. The tweet recalls past elections in which Capriles and other opposition figures have denounced delayed closings of voting centers. As this blog has noted, however, with real time updates, some centers were late opening today – in at least one case because MUD (opposition) witnesses failed to arrive on time (see update at 1:41 PM).

Update 5:55 PM (EST): Telesur reports that the CNE said that as of 6:00 pm Caracas time (almost a half hour ago), most polling stations remained open.

Update 5:42 PM (EST): Former Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero told the media earlier today that press that the voting process was going well, and called on opposition and pro-government parties to engage in dialogue starting Monday.

Meanwhile, an hour ago, the Associated Press reported on a live update page:

Past Venezuelan elections have been marred by complaints of armed gangs intimidating opposition voters.

There have been few reports of that type of harassment as voting in congressional elections draws to a close. But videos are circulating of high-profile socialist party politicians being booed and heckled as they went to cast their votes.

In the home state of the late president Hugo Chavez, his brother Gov. Adan Chavez drew jeers from a large crowd chanting: “out of here!”

At least four other governors and the pro-government mayor of Caracas also had to pass through gauntlets of angry opposition members to cast their ballots.

Update 5:34 PM (EST): A monitor reports:

Venezuela’s National Assembly legislator Miguel Pizarro of the opposition MUD party spoke to me immediately after voting at Centro Simón Rodriguez in Petare, Caracas, about the implementation of today’s vote. “The CNE [National Electoral Commision] officials have done a good job,” he said. “Since early this morning I’ve been going through the [voting] centers accompanying our party’s witnesses, and the CNE staff’s work has been good.” Regarding the results to be announced by the CNE this evening, he responded, “Whatever comes out of the electronic voting system, we’ve always said that the system is not the problem.”

Of course this is not exactly true: many in the MUD have repeatedly assailed the CNE and Venezuela’s electoral system, most notably following the 2013 elections.

Update 5:23 PM (EST): As the last voters trickle in (although some may be in line well after 6 pm Caracas time, and still able to vote), an election monitor sends a reminder of how the voting process works – with photos related to stages 4 and 5):

Summary of 5 voting stations:

1) Initial check for table assignments, then voters line up at assigned tables/rooms.

2) Digital thumb print taken and voter registration re-verified.

3) Vote.

4) Voter signature and ink thumb print attesting to having voted are captured next to voter’s name.
Collection of signature and thumb print.

5) Finally, indelible ink (two liquids) is put on the right pinkie to prevent one person from voting multiple times.


Indelible ink leaves a mark.

Voters mark their pinky fingers.
(Pictures of voters going through the last two stations at one table of the Luis Agusto Machado Cisneros voting station and the two poll workers working those stations.)

Update 5:00 PM (EST): The CNE has reportedly suspended credentials for former presidents Pastrana, Lacalle and Quiroga due to their statements to the media. (Those engaging in electoral monitoring and accompaniment are subject to certain restrictions on making statements to the media before polls close.) See below (update 4:30 pm) regarding Quiroga’s questionable impartiality in particular.

Update 4:50 PM (EST): As Telesur notes, “Many voting stations still have lengthy line-ups with one hour and a half left to vote, but officials have reiterated that polls will only close at 6:00 p.m. if there are no voters left waiting.” 

Update 4:41 PM (EST): A monitor in Margarita reports:

Short update: As of 4 pm, a voting center in the urban zone of Isla Margarita had 67% turnout. A semi-urban zone in Municipality Antonio Diaz is up to nearly 81% turnout as of 5 pm.

Update 4:30 PM (EST): A delegation of right-wing former presidents of Latin American countries is in Venezuela to witness the elections, including Andres Pastrana (Colombia), Jorge Quiroga (Bolivia), Mireya Moscoso (Panama), Luis Alberto Lacalle (Uruguay) and Laura Chinchilla and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez (both from Costa Rica).

Twitter activity for Pastrana and Quiroga shows that the ex-presidents have spent much time accompanying opposition figures such as Lilian Tintori (wife of imprisoned opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, who promoted a campaign last year aimed at pressuring Maduro out of office) and Súmate’s Maria Corina Machado (a fellow leader, like Lopez, of the “La Salida” campaign, whom Quiroga referred to as a “heroine”):

It is unclear whether the former presidents have met with any supporters of the government, or generally how much effort they have made to talk to a variety of Venezuelans from different class and race backgrounds.

How objective and impartial are some of these former presidents? A U.S. State Department cable published by WikiLeaks describes a 2006 meeting between Quiroga and the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia at the time, David Greenlee, with Quiroga urging the U.S. to “stop” Chávez’s “domino effect”:

Former President and opposition leader Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga told the Ambassador on May 30 that the USG should help “stop” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Peru, or risk the domino effect in Ecuador and elsewhere. Quiroga said if former Peruvian President Alan Garcia wins on June 4, Chavez will mobilize the opposition (via presidential candidate Ollanta Humula) at some point to riot and force Garcia to respond. When Garcia uses force to restore order, and the inevitable casualties result, Quiroga says that Garcia will “go down like (former Bolivian President) Gonzalo “Goni” Sanchez de Lozada.” After Peru, Quiroga predicts a showdown between the United States and Venezuela in Ecuador. Quiroga says that because Ecuador has many people who oppose free trade and hosts a significant indigenous population, it is “ripe” for Chavez’s influence.

… He said we should make no mistake — Chavez, who Quiroga called “delusional,” thinks he is the new Simon Bolivar and wants to take over Latin America. Quiroga cited the many Chavez posters plastered across the Chapare for the MAS Constituent Assembly kickoff May 26, and that the Venezuelans were teaching their national anthem to the Bolivian crowd. Quiroga said that in addition to his grip on Bolivia, Chavez holds Argentina, Brazil and Chile “hostage” by controlling the radical left in each of those countries, and effectively uses such control to minimize the actions those governments are willing to take against him publicly.

Such rhetoric is reminiscent of the most paranoid of the Washington establishment during the Cold War. Any gains by the left anywhere in Latin America must, in Quiroga’s eyes, be due to Chávez’s malign influence – and Chávez’s power and reach apparently knew few bounds.

It is difficult to perceive Quiroga as an impartial observer given this background and have faith that he will challenge opposition claims of widespread fraud, even if there would – as in previous elections – be no evidence for them.

Update 3:40 PM (EST): An election monitor visited misiones in Petare, Miranda state today. The misiones are undoubtedly the most iconic of initiatives of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, responsible for significant gains in poverty reduction, lowered child malnutrition, increases in child and adult education, and much more.

Mision Ribas graffitiHow have the misiones fared since Chávez died in 2013? The monitor writes:

The misiones are […] one of the triumphs of Chavismo here, and are still lingering for the most part. Even the opposition recognizes them, their utility, and mobilizes around and with them.

There is naturally propaganda for the misiones in a lot of voting centers (primary schools, community centers).

Five more misiones are active in and around Petare (and aside from exceptionally tranquil voting processes): Misión de Alimentación [food assistance], Misión de Saber y Trabajar [to help people in need of work], Misión Milagro [eye surgeries], Misión Sonrisa [dental care], and Gran Misión a Toda Vida Venezuela [security].
 
This last one could use the most improvement and focus, since it deals with delinquency, violence, community policing, etc., here in Petare especially.

Touting the achievements of the misiones.

Update 3:15 PM (EST): CNE President Tibisay Lucena has denounced false claims of invalid votes at some voting centers, warning of the dangers of such rumors being spread via social media. Rather, “Everything has unfolded in a very quiet and civic way,” she told media.

Update 1:41 PM (EST): At 1:13 PM, a monitor in Barquisimeto reported long lines, and long waits:

At a large voting center, Simon Bolivar, 2759 have voted out of 7340. 500 people were waiting in line to vote, with approximately 200 people waiting outside – a two-hour wait outside to vote. The whole process took voters 3 hours to complete.

This center opened late (8:30/9:00) because 3 MUD testigos [witnesses] failed to show up. We heard two rationales: They feared losing, and/or if the voting started without them, they could declare fraud.

The opposition won the last election here.

Update 1:36 PM (EST): A monitor in Valencia, Carabobo state, sent us this video:

He writes:

Witnesses and/or poll workers at every table must include at least one representative of each party, although smaller parties do not have enough supporters to send to all tables, and the opposition does not send reps to all tables. Nevertheless, I have made a point to speak with opposition witnesses at every table visited, and have heard zero complaints from them so far.

Here is video of initial registration/table assignment station at Itaca voting center in Valencia, which consists of 15 tables and 8980 total voters, which greatly exemplifies the relaxed atmosphere at the polls.

Update 12:28 PM (EST): Reuters reports why there may be a significant difference between national polling and the results of today’s elections, as well as what opposition victories might portend for the Maduro government:

Political analysts point out that the Socialist Party benefits from a geographic distribution of seats that favors historically pro-government rural areas over cities.

That could mean the overall vote will not be precisely reflected in the number of seats won by each side.

The practical impact of a potential opposition victory would depend on how large a majority it wins.

Taking two thirds of the seats would allow Maduro’s adversaries to sack cabinet ministers as well as name directors of the National Electoral Council, which critics accuse of routinely favoring the ruling party.

With a simple majority, lawmakers could pass an amnesty law to seek the release of jailed politicians such as Lopez, who was arrested for leading 2014 anti-government protests.

They could also open investigations of state agencies, interrogate cabinet ministers and pressure for the publication of economic indicators such as inflation that have been kept under wraps as the economy has unraveled.

Update 12:23 PM (EST): A monitor sends images of past and present voting machines to note the improvements made over time:

Voting machine comparison.Voting machine used in 1998 elections that brought Chávez to the presidency, compared to latest model of Smartmatic machines being utilized in the 2015 elections. The first machine scanned voter sheets filled out by hand. The current generation of machines are connected to a touchscreen voter sheet that lists the choices by party. Many candidates appear under multiple parties.

Below is a picture of the sample voter sheet for District 5 in Carabobo state, which mimics the touchscreen voter sheet.

Sample ballot.

Voter with ink-stained finger.
[Voters’ fingers are stained with ink once they have voted.]

Update 12:08 PM (EST): A report sent at 11:49 from Barlovento, at the Centro de Educación Inicial Gabriel Emilio Muñoz, Higuerote, reads:

1509 registered voters, 3 mesas. When we arrive, there is a commotion in front of the center with a number of people shouting at each other. A representative of the MUD from the sector has arrived to address a complaint of a voter who says he wasn’t able to vote.

Inside the voting center, we indeed discover a mesa where they are all aware of an incident where a man wasn’t able to vote. He placed his thumb in the fingerprint machine and it indicated that he’d already voted, and blocked him from using the voting machine. When they checked the paper registry of voters for the mesa, they saw that he hadn’t signed and put his fingerprint next to his name, indicating that he voted.

They write out a statement recognizing that he wasn’t able to exercise his right to vote and phoned the CNE headquarters to let them know about the problem.

After enquiring at the other mesas, and speaking to the various party witnesses, it appears that the rumor regarding a mesa member having told a voter how to vote while he or she was voting wasn’t true.  By the time we leave the center, the crowd of people that gathered outside is gone.

Update 12:03 PM (EST): Update from Unidad Educativa Jose Jesus Garcia in the city of Porlamar, Mariño municipality, Isla Margarita/Nueva Esparta:

If the trend from the voting center we just were at is general, Chavismo may be in trouble today in terms of the vote. The voting center is located in an eminently popular sector zone, where houses are generally self constructed. There was tremendous turnout in the voting booth with extremely long lines at multiple voting booths, and a high vote in other booths where the line was shorter because voting was going faster.

The first notable observation is that this sector is known as a highly Chavista sector. I spoke to around a dozen people, if not more (perhaps up to 18), and only 2 identified themselves as Chavistas. The majority, in fact the vast majority of people I spoke to waiting in line to vote, said they were voting for ‘change,’ meaning for the opposition. They said that they are tired of the long lines for basic goods and foods. Several mothers complained of getting up at 4 am to wait in line and not even being able to always buy food even doing that.

One of the two Chavistas I spoke with commented that “I’m Chavista” and said the economic situation in the country is due to ‘the economic war that is being waged by businessmen … every day I read about a businessman being put in jail due to withholding goods from the people’. This man is a construction worker/electrician and said that his neighborhood is still very Chavista. He also said he’d just been waiting about 25 minutes, though he was at the end of the line. Other people further along said they’d been waiting 3 hours and in a nearby booth for 5 hours. All of these people also said they were there to vote for ‘change.’ Over and over people mentioned the long lines. Another mother mentioned not being able to get formula for her baby, and how her 60-year-old father had to leave the country (I believe to go to Colombia) to get medicine.

Out of 7 voting booths in the center, 2 had extremely long lines, where people had been waiting a very long time, for 3 hours, and according to a few more, 5 hours to vote. In these tables there had been some issues with the voting machines, though there are different versions of what happened. In one table/booth there were between 2 and 4 cases (I was told 4, but another member of my delegation said she was told 2 just 15 minutes earlier) in which people said they hadn’t touched the machine and it emitted a null vote, and apparently this wasn’t because of waiting too long. The CNE technician with us came and explained to the people, and us, that “this is technically impossible” and gave some hypothetical explanations of what had happened. He was convinced that they had touched a button to issue a null vote without realizing it. At any rate, this caused some delay and the vote in this booth up until about 11:30 am was just a bit over half the nearby booths, which hadn’t had any problems. It seemed that several booths were functioning very smoothly in the center, with one having people waiting from 10 to 25 minutes before voting, and apparently only have a few small issues.

Most of the people who said that they are voting for the opposition said they’ve always voted opposition, but at least 2 said that they have changed after being Chavista and now they are switching to vote opposition.

Another observation was that the CNE and military folks escorting us we’re noticeably nervous as we talked to people. They said this was because the zone is known as being ‘very conflictive’ and even filled with ‘delinquents.’ They asked us to stay together and wanted to leave relatively quickly. However, they were extremely accommodating when we expressed interest in staying longer.

An interesting thing happened when I asked several people if they felt confident in the system. They explained that they’d seen someone ahead of them (in a relatively fast booth) have some sort of problem. The main CNE technician came over and explained to them what happened. After this they all looked relieved and said they felt much more confident that they wouldn’t have problems. However, several people saying they’d vote for the opposition expressed a lack of full faith in what the results would be.

Based on this center, it seems this election may have a very, very high turnout, though that hypothesis should be compared with other observations. In addition to the long lines people also said that they hadn’t seen such a high turnout in awhile here.

Update 11:43 AM (EST): Another update from Guacara in Carabobo state:

Schools made up all of the voting centers the international observers visited in Carabobo this morning. 6,090 voters were registered at the Diego Ibarra voting center in Guacara. They were split into 11 voting tables. When we arrived, voting was going quickly at all but one table. That table’s voting machine was running a little slow. In general, delays often occur due to some voters’, especially older voters’, lack of familiarity with touchscreen technology.Diego Ibarra voting center.

Update 11:29 AM (EST): A monitor in Barquisimeto reports:

At Escuela Dima Acosta de Alvarez, the third voting place we have visited in Barquisimiento: By 11:30, 1302 voted out of 3298. The city’s mayor said he had lots of faith and optimism in this election. He is opposition. He said there had been no major incident in any of the centers, and no major delays – just a few glitches.

Update 11:20 AM (EST): While many international media reports and commentaries have stoked fears that the Maduro government will refuse to accept the results if its coalition loses today, some prominent opposition figures are stating that results showing an opposition loss today could only result from fraud. Venezuela Analysis (who are also tracking the elections with regular updates today) noted:

Hard line leader Maria Corina Machado tweeted this morning, “Or we sweep a win, or there is a fraud [underway] that we won’t accept.”

Such opposition claims have been bolstered by media reports and a campaign by the U.S. government, the OAS, and other international actors to apparently discredit Venezuela’s electoral system, despite its many safeguards (see below), the presence of international witnesses to today’s elections (from UNASUR, among other organizations), and repeated monitoring and praise for the integrity of Venezuela’s electoral system in past elections, by the EU, the OAS, the Carter Center and others.

Fears of an opposition refusal to accept today’s results, or to refuse to accept a victory short of a supermajority, have precedent in 2013’s elections, when opposition leaders refused to recognize the official results and some violently protested. Some opposition figures – and international supporters – also claimed there was fraud in Venezuela’s 2004 recall referendum, despite a complete lack of evidence.

Update 11:03 AM (EST): A monitor reports from Unidad Ejecutiva Nuestra Señora del Carmen, Higuerote in Luis Brión municipality, Miranda state:

925 registered voters, two mesas. Hour-long line. 306 people have voted so far, and probably 200 currently in line at 11:15 am. Elderly people and pregnant women are invited to skip the line and go straight to their mesa. The president of one of the mesas failed to show up and a substitute had to be called. As a result the center only opened at 8 am.

Spoke to witnesses from MUD, GPPSB and NUVIPA and they reported no problems apart from the failure of the president to show up.

Update 10:59 AM (EST): A monitor reports from the Luis Agusto Machado Cisneros voting center in Guacara, Carabobo:

Step 1 – Voter ID check and voting table assignment – 12 tables, total of 6498 registered voters at center.

Luis Agusto Machado Cisneros voting center.

Update 10:47 AM (EST): A monitor reports from Universidad Pedagógica Argelis Laya in Higuerote:

Two mesas and 1100 registered voters. At 10:50 am, 340 people had voted. There was a 15 minute line outside of the center, and 10 minute lines for each mesa. One of the mesas was only able to open at 7:10 am as their voting machine short-circuited and had to be replaced.

A MUD witness tells us that the process is “very good.”  When asked if the process is secure, a few voters say yes, but when asked if they trust the results, they say that they only trust the results once they see them published.

The results for each mesa in the entire country will be published online within hours after voting centers close.

Update 10:31 AM (EST): A monitor reported from Iribarren municipality in Lara state at 10:12 am:

At Escuela Dra. Clement Bustamante, all is peaceful . At 10:15, the total numbered registered is 777. Of those, 269 have voted. [In the] last election, [this center] voted opposition.

We are impressed by the number of voting centers.

Update 10:22 AM (EST): A monitor in Barlovento, at the Unidad Educativa Nacional Gonzalez in Higuerote, reported at 10:01 EST:

3,882 voters, 7 mesas.

1104 people have voted so far. Long lines that started before the voting center opened. No major problems, but the voting machine at one of the mesas wasn’t working and had to be replaced by a CNE technician. That mesa only began working at 8:30 am.

A few of the other mesas only began working at 7:30 am due to mesa personnel not showing up. In every case, their substitutes were called and were able to replace them.

Some voters were spotted wearing clothing with PSUV party insignia. Normally they should have been sent home to change before they could vote, but this didn’t appear to happen.

Update 10:17 AM (EST): Update from Unidad Educativa Juan Cancio, semi urban sector of Asuncion, parish Asuncion, Municipality Arismendi:

This is a sector that is mixed classes: middle, upper-middle and popular. Tends towards opposition. I spoke with 6 people Voting line at Unidad Educativa Juan Canciowaiting in long lines, and 4 expressed open support for the opposition or positions clearly tending towards the opposition. The other 2 didn’t express preferences. A commercial pilot said, ‘I want change. I want this to be a normal country.’ He expressed hope that the process would be clean, but wouldn’t commit to saying he had full faith in the results. But he didn’t express grave doubts. I asked others why they were here to vote or help with the vote, instead of going to the beach. An opposition witness woman said, ‘This is too important [to miss and go to the beach] … the future of Venezuela is in play.’ She later expressed full faith in what will happen in her voting booth, but said she felt just ‘average’ about faith in the overall results. She said as well that the government and opposition locally have used state resources to campaign and/or bring voters to vote, e.g., state-owned cars were used. A PSUV witness said she didn’t think this happened, and didn’t have knowledge of it happening for either side.

There were fairly long lines to vote, though the people I asked in the middle of lines had been waiting half an hour. They said they’d wait as long as they had to, to vote. A young man said he was voting ‘because our constitution gives us the right to vote when we’re 18.’

Overall the voting center was without any significant problems. As in other centers, in several voting booths (mesas) witnesses and booth members (who are selected by lottery by the CNE, as party witnesses for both parties) said things were smooth. One […] said that several senior citizens couldn’t figure out how to vote for the candidates they wanted to, and by mistake had null votes. Seems to be a regular problem, but just a few cases per table.

Update 9:58 AM (EST): A monitor in Carabobo state reports:

Team of 7 international observers, including one from UNASUR, have visited 2 voting centers so far in Guacara, Carabobo state. Voters in good spirit in a heavily contested state. So far, the electorate skews older, but makes sense as younger voters may come later.

Update 9:54 AM (EST): An update sent at 8:46 am from Sucre includes another account of brisk voting, as reported elsewhere:

UNASUR accompaniment delegates from Ecuador reviewed the voting center in the Dolorita parish of Sucre, circuit 4, which has been the recipient of 22 new voting centers. They found that from registration to ink stain, the process took on average between 45 seconds to 1 minute. Four party representatives, two from MUD and PSUV respectively, were in attendance to observe the proceedings.

UNASUR delegates

Update 9:46 AM (EST): A monitor in Barquisimiento reports:

Outside Pablo Jose AlvarezIn Barquisimiento, we visited escuela Pablo Jose Alvarez . Out of 1300 registered by 9:30 am, 359 had already voted.

An older couple just leaving whispered that “the opposition is going to win,” with some relish. And we are in a chavista neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update 9:31 AM (Report received at 8:52 AM) EST: Barlovento, Miranda: Escuela Bolivariana Centro el Marquez, Acevedo municipality: Escuela Bolivariana Centro el Marquez, Acevedo

2 mesas, 348 voters per mesa. A longer line in front but both voters and party witnesses say that everyting is unfolding normally. At one of the mesas two of the personnel didn’t show up, but their substitutes are called and show up a bit later, allowing the mesa to open up at 6:25am.

Two elderly women and one illiterate man are confused by the electronic voting machine. In one case, a family member who has identified herself and signed in at the entrance accompanies one of the women. In the two other cases, the president of the mesa gets up and stands near the voter and explains with words and gestures how to vote.

There are MUD and GPPSB witnesses at each mesa and they all say that all is well, as does one representative of an independent party NUVIPA.

Update 9:15 AM (EST): A monitor in Barlovento, Miranda, provides an update from the voting center at the German Rosario high school in the Acevedo municipality (see below), which also presents a good rundown of how votiVoters in Acevedo municipalityng unfolds within the polling stations):

By 8:45 lines grow longer. But process still quick. Voters are received first by a row of young staffers with computers. They take the voters’ names and ID numbers and orient them toward one of the mesas. The voter then waits his/her turn and is then received by the presidente de mesa who enters their ID number into the electronic fingerprint machine. Once one or two of their thumb prints identify them as a voter at that mesa, they advance to the voting booth. When they’re ready to vote, the president of the mesa presses a blue button on the fingerprint machine that instructs the electronic voting machine to present the ballot to the voter. In this circuit, the voter votes twice (one party/coalition list and one nominal diputado), takes the receipt from the voting machine, folds it, places it in a sealed cardboard box, then goes to a table where they sign and place a thumb print next to their name on a list of voters for the mesa, and then puts their little finger in indelible ink. And that’s it! The whole process generally takes less than two minutes.

 

UPDATE 8:31 AM (EST): Election monitors in Nueva Esparta provide more context on the area where they are observing:

We’re here observing in Isla Margarita (Nueva Esparta state). Here’s some context to understand what’s happening.

Parish of Santa Ana

Margarita is the largest and most populated of three islands in the Caribbean (approx. 30 min flight from Caracas) forming the state of Nueva Esparta.

Isla Margarita is the premier tourist destination in Venezuela. Economically there are four primary sources of income for people who live here: tourism (service work and some owners of hotels and restaurants), public employment (with variation amongst comparatively well-paid professionals and relatively low-paid/minimum wage public-sector workers), commerce (wealthy importers and clothing and luggage stores) and fishing.

Parish of Santa Ana

According to folks we’ve talked to here (mostly from the CNE), the  popular classes tend to vote for Chavismo, although in the capital, Asuncion, the opposition wins with popular class vote. In Asuncion, there are many security forces and public school teachers who have recently voted for the opposition. It’s worth noting that this suggests that one of the opposition critiques – that public employees don’t feel comfortable voting for the opposition – doesn’t seem to hold here. The fishermen (apparently it’s all male workforce) tend towards Chavismo, as do service workers.

Politically, Nueva Esparta was opposition through 2004, and then Chavista from 2004 through 2012. Right now it’s seen as a battleground state where Chavismo and the opposition are running roughly equally in terms of political strength. The two wealthiest municipalities here (Maneiro and Mariño, which is split between wealthy zones and popular sector zones) are controlled by opposition mayors. Two other municipalities, Arismendi (middle class, lower middle class; lots of public employees), Marcano (wealthy importers, commercial zones, store owners, popular classes/fishers who vote Chavistas) also have opposition mayors. But 7 of the 11 municipalities in the state have Chavista mayors; these tend to be popular sectors.

The vote today is likely to be close here according to local observers. And unlike much of Venezuela, polarization seems a bit lower here, in the sense that people seem to get along more or less OK despite political differences.

In Santa Ana Parish, Municipality Gomez

Voters in Santa Ana Parish
[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this update stated that the opposition won gubernatorial elections in Nueva Esparta state in 2012. In fact, the current governor, Carlos Mata Figueroa, is Chavista.]

UPDATE 8:21 AM (EST): An election monitor reports:

Barlovento, Miranda: voting center at the German Rosario high school in the Acevedo municipality. 8 mesas de votacion with around 4,400 voters. The mesas were all up and running by 6:30am. In a couple of cases, mesa personnel (selected randomly within the community by the CNE) didn’t arrive and so they were replaced by pre-selected substitutes.

At 8am: No line in front of the voting center and very short lines for each of the mesas. Everything going smoothly, people coming out of the center surprised by lack of voters.

UPDATE 8:05 AM (EST): One of our election monitors reports that she was was awakened this morning at 5 AM by what she thought was firecrackers, or gunfire. “It turned out to be the cannons calling people to vote.”

She writes: “Every speech I’ve heard in the last week has focused on peace. Venezuela is a peaceful country – at least that is what Maduro is saying.”

UPDATE 6:43 AM (EST): The Miami Herald has filed its initial report of the day. It reads, in part: “Although the opposition is believed to have an advantage, it’s still unclear how that lead will play out in the final results. Analysts caution that the race consists of 114 separate elections (in individual districts and states) making a final outcome hard to predict. Years of gerrymandering also give the ruling party candidates an advantage.”

It is indeed important to note that the election is really the many separate contests, as the Herald states, rather than one national race as with presidential elections. Unfortunately, in the run-up to the election, some commentators and media outlets have described the election in ways that make it appear as more of a single, nationwide contest. As we noted in our new paper, there may end up being a significant disparity between what national opinion polling would suggest and Assembly seats won. It is also important to note that what the Herald describes as “gerrymandering.” From our report:

It is important to understand that the difference between the percentage of the vote and the percentage of seats received by a party or coalition is not the result of “gerrymandering” or any other manipulation of districts, as is sometimes suggested in the media. Like the United States and many other countries, Venezuela has a system of representation that gives disproportional representation to states with smaller populations. In the U.S. this is done through allocating two Senators to each state, regardless of population. Thus Wyoming, with a population of 584,000, has the same number of Senators as California, which has more than 39 million people.

UPDATE 6:24 AM (EST): An election monitor reports from Nueva Esparta:

Everything seems to be going smoothly at voting center in Nueva Esparta. There are 5 voting booths (mesas) here and all but 1 had all 5 members: 3 selected by lottery by CNE and 2 witnesses, 1 each for government and opposition. The voting booth members voted first then the public. A regular flow of voters by 6:25 AM. As of 6:35 AM no problems reported.

UPDATE 6:12 AM (EST): Telesur is reporting “Polls opened early Sunday in Venezuela’s National Assembly election, with people lining up at polling stations well before the start of voting at 6:00am local time?.” The article includes useful summaries of how Venezuela’s electoral system works, with an informative video and a step-by-step explanation of the voting process. (One omission from the latter is that a random sample of 54 percent of votes are audited on election night.)


On Sunday, December 6, Venezuela will be holding legislative elections and CEPR will be on the ground transmitting live updates throughout the day with the help of election monitors located in different parts of the country.

We will be monitoring every stage of the electoral process: first, the opening of voting centers early in the day; second, the voting process itself – which is scheduled to begin at 6:00 am Venezuela time, and end at 6:00 pm (or until there are no more voters standing in line to vote); third, the Citizens’ Audit in which political party representatives and members of the community audit the electronic results of 54 percent of voting machines by comparing them with a tally of paper receipts; and, finally, the announcement of the results by Venezuela’s electoral authority – the National Electoral Council (CNE by its Spanish initials).

Venezuelans will be electing national representatives – diputadas and diputados – to fill all 167 seats of the country’s unicameral legislature, the National Assembly.   Two big party coalitions are facing off: the pro-government Patriotic Pole (Gran Polo Patriótico Simón Bolívar, or GPPSB) versus the opposition Democratic Unity Platform coalition (Mesa de Unidad Democrática, or MUD).  

The stakes are potentially high in these elections, as polls have suggested that the governing party – the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, or PSUV) – could lose its majority in the Assembly for the first time since 1999.  With various polls putting President Nicolás Maduro’s favorability ratings in the low 20s, some commentators are predicting that opposition parties have a good chance of achieving a three-fifths or two-thirds supermajority. This would allow a united bloc of opposition parties to exercise special legislative powers such as, in the case of a two-thirds majority, approving constitutional reforms, removing Supreme Court judges or appointing CNE members; and, in the case of three-fifths, removing government ministers from the cabinet.

However, given the nature of legislative elections and the particularities of Venezuela’s voting system, it is highly unlikely that the percentage of seats that the opposition will receive in these elections will closely track the levels of support that national polls suggest that they have.  As we show in a new report with projections of a range of possible results in these elections, we are likely to see a significant gap between the total votes that go to the opposition on a national level, and the seats that they end up obtaining.   

This is in part due to the much-commented fact that more sparsely populated rural areas that have typically been more supportive of the government are disproportionately represented in the legislative voting system.  This is not, as some suggest, a result of gerrymandering or some other politically motivated manipulation of the system, but rather because the country’s 1999 constitution ensures that, much like in the U.S. Senate, smaller states are disproportionately represented. 

Under the country’s mixed nominal and proportional voting systems, 113 representatives are nominally elected (voters vote for a name on the ballot) and 51 are elected by list (in which voters vote for a party, or a coalition of parties).  Representatives elected by list are elected at the state level (Venezuela has 24 states), whereas those elected by name are elected at the level of each one of the country’s 87 electoral circumscriptions. In addition, three indigenous representatives are elected to the National Assembly by voters in three groups of states with high concentrations of indigenous citizens.

Elections are frequent in Venezuela – nearly 20 have been held since 1998 — and electoral experts consider them to be exceedingly transparent and secure thanks to an advanced electronic voting system that is audited at every level by opposition and pro-government party representatives, as well as by independent electoral observers. Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center has monitored nearly 100 elections worldwide, has referred to the Venezuelan electoral system as “the best in the world.”

And yet, over the last few weeks, the U.S. government, the head of the Organization of American States and various politicians (including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton) have strongly questioned the integrity of Venezuela’s electoral process, even suggesting that the process may be “rigged.” Given that no evidence of possible fraud has emerged in these or prior elections (going back to the mid-90s) CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot has stated, in a recent op-ed, that these foreign actors appear to be “promoting instability and possible violence.”

We’ve already seen a similar international campaign.  Following the presidential elections of April 2013, the opposition’s presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, contested the final results, without presenting any evidence of manipulation or fraud.  As opposition supporters took to the streets — and, in some instances, perpetrated violent attacks in which government supporters were killed — both the Obama administration and the OAS Secretary General supported Capriles’ demand for a recount (a technically impossible demand when dealing with an electronic voting system). 

Over the years, CEPR has taken a hard look at various elections in the region and has had live blogs for Venezuela’s 2012 and 2013 presidential elections, Honduras’ 2013 presidential and legislative elections, and Haiti’s 2010 presidential and legislative elections. As we have done with past live blogs, we and other election monitors will describe the electoral process as we see it and will incorporate press reports, statements from state officials, political party spokespeople and foreign actors as they appear.  We hope you can tune in starting early Sunday morning!

Update 12:12 AM: President Nicolas Maduro stated in an address that “we accept” the results, as he had pledged he would.

Update: 12:08 AM (December 7, EST): With participation of almost 75 percent, the CNE has announced that the MUD (opposition coalition has won 99 seats, while the pro-government coalition has won 46. Nineteen seats are to be announced.

Update 11:58 PM (EST): CNE announcement of results beginning. Watch live here. CNE President Tibisay Lucena says process was “clean and reliable.”

Update 11:31 PM (EST): The CNE is expected to announce results within minutes.

Update 10:42 PM (EST): Venezuela Analysis reports that a CNE official was attacked in Chacao, Miranda state, while trying to enter a voting center, a few hours ago, with people chasing him shouting “kill him, kill him.” Watch the video here.

Update 9:46 PM (EST): Stay posted. Official results are expected soon. Meanwhile, social media is abuzz over the opposition’s unofficial claims of victory, helping to create a potentially dangerous situation.

Update 9:37 PM (EST): In an earlier press conference, Venezuela’s defense minister said that there have been “72 electoral incidents,” of which seven were electoral crimes, and seven individuals arrested.

Update 8:53 PM (EST): Venezuela Analysis notes “Opposition leaders such as Henrique Capriles are celebrating their win on Twitter,” and Reuters is likewise reporting:

But the celebration is premature, since, as Reuters notes as the CNE has not announced results yet. Such premature announcements are reminiscent of past elections, such as in 2013, when Capriles cried foul and accused the authorities of a plot to rob him of the election even before results were announced.

Also reminiscent of 2013’s elections are attacks on social media accounts of people and outlets considered to be chavista.

Update 8:09 PM (EST): Opal Tometi tweeted:

Update 8:06 PM (EST): A monitor in Catia sent us this ballot verification update at 7:41:

Ballot verification in Gato Negro, Catia.This is a print out of what will be transmitted to the CNE from sector Gato Negro in Catia. It has been signed by the director, technician, and two witnesses, among others.

Update 7:45 PM (EST): A monitor in Carabobo state sent a summary report of what he witnessed today:

The spirit in all 5 voting centers visited in Carabobo by international observers was one of tranquility, civility, a palpable sense of civic duty, and an overall relaxed environment despite an evenly divided electorate. There were occasional delays at some tables due to voter unfamiliarity with touchscreen and technical issues with voting equipment.

Voters in Carabobo state.The prevalence of older voters, including those that required accompaniment from a friend or family member, seemed to slow the process as they often required individualized instructions from poll workers. Although Venezuela’s government tried to familiarize voters by bringing voting machines to public spaces in the last few months, not all had experienced the most recent touchscreen setup.

Opposition voters were more likely to complain because of delays. As one man sourly stated after an equipment-based delay made his table’s line stop moving: “We wait hours in line for food, we’ll wait hours if need be to vote.”

Out of the approximately 60 votes this observer witnessed pass through the process, one was a null or blank vote due to unknown reasons (whether poll worker error, voter error, or equipment failure). The woman claiming her vote was not captured became angry and loudly complained before calming down, finishing the final two steps verifying that she had voted, and declaring, “We’re still going to win.” There appeared to be no reason to believe her null vote was the result of anything nefarious, but her comment summarized the election’s dominant narrative as expressed by many in the opposition, their media, the U.S. government and the majority of U.S. media: systemic fraud despite any evidence or even a theory of fraud. Nevertheless, things have remained peaceful and we hope that continues as the close results are announced.?

Instructions not to hit "vote" the vote has been verified.

(Instructions not to hit “vote” until every vote has been verified, as the machine will ask for verification if a vote is missing.)

Update 7:31 PM (EST): A monitor in Caracas reported at 7:15:

We are on our way to watch a citizen audit at one voting center.

As you know, 54% of tables will have electronic results compared to the paper count of ballot boxes. This means that about half or more of tables at EVERY voting center will do this in front of witnesses from parties, and sometimes anyone else who wants to watch.

[Correction: While this monitor had previously been in Carabobo state, as we originally reported, he is now in Caracas.]

Update 7:22 PM (EST): Telesur denounces what it says were brief hacks of its social media accounts from U.S.-based IP addresses.

Update 7:05 PM (EST): Venezuela Analysis notes: “Henrique Capriles now claims the lines outside voting centers are being faked on television, and continues to tell supporters to close centers.”

Update 6:50 PM (EST): Social media is heating up with opposition demands for polling centers to close now that’s past 7:00, regardless of whether anyone is in line to vote. For example, this tweet purportedly shows opposition activists going to a polling station in Barinas (where the late President Hugo Chavez’s brother Adan is governor) to demand it close:


However, Article 121 of the law governing electoral processes [PDF] states:

Las mesas electorales funcionarán de seis de la mañana (6:00 a.m.), hasta las seis de la tarde (6:00 p.m.), del día y se mantendrán abiertas mientras haya electoras y electores en espera por sufragar.

Translation: The polling stations will operate from six in the morning (6:00 am), until six in the evening (6:00 pm),  and will remain open as long as voters are waiting to vote.

Update 6:37 PM (EST): Opal Tometi, monitoring the elections today, Tweeted earlier:

Update 6:23 PM (EST): International election accompaniers are speaking, presenting their take on the election process today. Watch Telesur live.

Update 6:20 PM (EST): Venezuela Analysis notes that opposition leader (and former presidential candidate) Henrique Capriles has called on supporters to go to voting centers and urge their closure as long as no one is in line. The tweet recalls past elections in which Capriles and other opposition figures have denounced delayed closings of voting centers. As this blog has noted, however, with real time updates, some centers were late opening today – in at least one case because MUD (opposition) witnesses failed to arrive on time (see update at 1:41 PM).

Update 5:55 PM (EST): Telesur reports that the CNE said that as of 6:00 pm Caracas time (almost a half hour ago), most polling stations remained open.

Update 5:42 PM (EST): Former Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero told the media earlier today that press that the voting process was going well, and called on opposition and pro-government parties to engage in dialogue starting Monday.

Meanwhile, an hour ago, the Associated Press reported on a live update page:

Past Venezuelan elections have been marred by complaints of armed gangs intimidating opposition voters.

There have been few reports of that type of harassment as voting in congressional elections draws to a close. But videos are circulating of high-profile socialist party politicians being booed and heckled as they went to cast their votes.

In the home state of the late president Hugo Chavez, his brother Gov. Adan Chavez drew jeers from a large crowd chanting: “out of here!”

At least four other governors and the pro-government mayor of Caracas also had to pass through gauntlets of angry opposition members to cast their ballots.

Update 5:34 PM (EST): A monitor reports:

Venezuela’s National Assembly legislator Miguel Pizarro of the opposition MUD party spoke to me immediately after voting at Centro Simón Rodriguez in Petare, Caracas, about the implementation of today’s vote. “The CNE [National Electoral Commision] officials have done a good job,” he said. “Since early this morning I’ve been going through the [voting] centers accompanying our party’s witnesses, and the CNE staff’s work has been good.” Regarding the results to be announced by the CNE this evening, he responded, “Whatever comes out of the electronic voting system, we’ve always said that the system is not the problem.”

Of course this is not exactly true: many in the MUD have repeatedly assailed the CNE and Venezuela’s electoral system, most notably following the 2013 elections.

Update 5:23 PM (EST): As the last voters trickle in (although some may be in line well after 6 pm Caracas time, and still able to vote), an election monitor sends a reminder of how the voting process works – with photos related to stages 4 and 5):

Summary of 5 voting stations:

1) Initial check for table assignments, then voters line up at assigned tables/rooms.

2) Digital thumb print taken and voter registration re-verified.

3) Vote.

4) Voter signature and ink thumb print attesting to having voted are captured next to voter’s name.
Collection of signature and thumb print.

5) Finally, indelible ink (two liquids) is put on the right pinkie to prevent one person from voting multiple times.


Indelible ink leaves a mark.

Voters mark their pinky fingers.
(Pictures of voters going through the last two stations at one table of the Luis Agusto Machado Cisneros voting station and the two poll workers working those stations.)

Update 5:00 PM (EST): The CNE has reportedly suspended credentials for former presidents Pastrana, Lacalle and Quiroga due to their statements to the media. (Those engaging in electoral monitoring and accompaniment are subject to certain restrictions on making statements to the media before polls close.) See below (update 4:30 pm) regarding Quiroga’s questionable impartiality in particular.

Update 4:50 PM (EST): As Telesur notes, “Many voting stations still have lengthy line-ups with one hour and a half left to vote, but officials have reiterated that polls will only close at 6:00 p.m. if there are no voters left waiting.” 

Update 4:41 PM (EST): A monitor in Margarita reports:

Short update: As of 4 pm, a voting center in the urban zone of Isla Margarita had 67% turnout. A semi-urban zone in Municipality Antonio Diaz is up to nearly 81% turnout as of 5 pm.

Update 4:30 PM (EST): A delegation of right-wing former presidents of Latin American countries is in Venezuela to witness the elections, including Andres Pastrana (Colombia), Jorge Quiroga (Bolivia), Mireya Moscoso (Panama), Luis Alberto Lacalle (Uruguay) and Laura Chinchilla and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez (both from Costa Rica).

Twitter activity for Pastrana and Quiroga shows that the ex-presidents have spent much time accompanying opposition figures such as Lilian Tintori (wife of imprisoned opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, who promoted a campaign last year aimed at pressuring Maduro out of office) and Súmate’s Maria Corina Machado (a fellow leader, like Lopez, of the “La Salida” campaign, whom Quiroga referred to as a “heroine”):

It is unclear whether the former presidents have met with any supporters of the government, or generally how much effort they have made to talk to a variety of Venezuelans from different class and race backgrounds.

How objective and impartial are some of these former presidents? A U.S. State Department cable published by WikiLeaks describes a 2006 meeting between Quiroga and the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia at the time, David Greenlee, with Quiroga urging the U.S. to “stop” Chávez’s “domino effect”:

Former President and opposition leader Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga told the Ambassador on May 30 that the USG should help “stop” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Peru, or risk the domino effect in Ecuador and elsewhere. Quiroga said if former Peruvian President Alan Garcia wins on June 4, Chavez will mobilize the opposition (via presidential candidate Ollanta Humula) at some point to riot and force Garcia to respond. When Garcia uses force to restore order, and the inevitable casualties result, Quiroga says that Garcia will “go down like (former Bolivian President) Gonzalo “Goni” Sanchez de Lozada.” After Peru, Quiroga predicts a showdown between the United States and Venezuela in Ecuador. Quiroga says that because Ecuador has many people who oppose free trade and hosts a significant indigenous population, it is “ripe” for Chavez’s influence.

… He said we should make no mistake — Chavez, who Quiroga called “delusional,” thinks he is the new Simon Bolivar and wants to take over Latin America. Quiroga cited the many Chavez posters plastered across the Chapare for the MAS Constituent Assembly kickoff May 26, and that the Venezuelans were teaching their national anthem to the Bolivian crowd. Quiroga said that in addition to his grip on Bolivia, Chavez holds Argentina, Brazil and Chile “hostage” by controlling the radical left in each of those countries, and effectively uses such control to minimize the actions those governments are willing to take against him publicly.

Such rhetoric is reminiscent of the most paranoid of the Washington establishment during the Cold War. Any gains by the left anywhere in Latin America must, in Quiroga’s eyes, be due to Chávez’s malign influence – and Chávez’s power and reach apparently knew few bounds.

It is difficult to perceive Quiroga as an impartial observer given this background and have faith that he will challenge opposition claims of widespread fraud, even if there would – as in previous elections – be no evidence for them.

Update 3:40 PM (EST): An election monitor visited misiones in Petare, Miranda state today. The misiones are undoubtedly the most iconic of initiatives of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, responsible for significant gains in poverty reduction, lowered child malnutrition, increases in child and adult education, and much more.

Mision Ribas graffitiHow have the misiones fared since Chávez died in 2013? The monitor writes:

The misiones are […] one of the triumphs of Chavismo here, and are still lingering for the most part. Even the opposition recognizes them, their utility, and mobilizes around and with them.

There is naturally propaganda for the misiones in a lot of voting centers (primary schools, community centers).

Five more misiones are active in and around Petare (and aside from exceptionally tranquil voting processes): Misión de Alimentación [food assistance], Misión de Saber y Trabajar [to help people in need of work], Misión Milagro [eye surgeries], Misión Sonrisa [dental care], and Gran Misión a Toda Vida Venezuela [security].
 
This last one could use the most improvement and focus, since it deals with delinquency, violence, community policing, etc., here in Petare especially.

Touting the achievements of the misiones.

Update 3:15 PM (EST): CNE President Tibisay Lucena has denounced false claims of invalid votes at some voting centers, warning of the dangers of such rumors being spread via social media. Rather, “Everything has unfolded in a very quiet and civic way,” she told media.

Update 1:41 PM (EST): At 1:13 PM, a monitor in Barquisimeto reported long lines, and long waits:

At a large voting center, Simon Bolivar, 2759 have voted out of 7340. 500 people were waiting in line to vote, with approximately 200 people waiting outside – a two-hour wait outside to vote. The whole process took voters 3 hours to complete.

This center opened late (8:30/9:00) because 3 MUD testigos [witnesses] failed to show up. We heard two rationales: They feared losing, and/or if the voting started without them, they could declare fraud.

The opposition won the last election here.

Update 1:36 PM (EST): A monitor in Valencia, Carabobo state, sent us this video:

He writes:

Witnesses and/or poll workers at every table must include at least one representative of each party, although smaller parties do not have enough supporters to send to all tables, and the opposition does not send reps to all tables. Nevertheless, I have made a point to speak with opposition witnesses at every table visited, and have heard zero complaints from them so far.

Here is video of initial registration/table assignment station at Itaca voting center in Valencia, which consists of 15 tables and 8980 total voters, which greatly exemplifies the relaxed atmosphere at the polls.

Update 12:28 PM (EST): Reuters reports why there may be a significant difference between national polling and the results of today’s elections, as well as what opposition victories might portend for the Maduro government:

Political analysts point out that the Socialist Party benefits from a geographic distribution of seats that favors historically pro-government rural areas over cities.

That could mean the overall vote will not be precisely reflected in the number of seats won by each side.

The practical impact of a potential opposition victory would depend on how large a majority it wins.

Taking two thirds of the seats would allow Maduro’s adversaries to sack cabinet ministers as well as name directors of the National Electoral Council, which critics accuse of routinely favoring the ruling party.

With a simple majority, lawmakers could pass an amnesty law to seek the release of jailed politicians such as Lopez, who was arrested for leading 2014 anti-government protests.

They could also open investigations of state agencies, interrogate cabinet ministers and pressure for the publication of economic indicators such as inflation that have been kept under wraps as the economy has unraveled.

Update 12:23 PM (EST): A monitor sends images of past and present voting machines to note the improvements made over time:

Voting machine comparison.Voting machine used in 1998 elections that brought Chávez to the presidency, compared to latest model of Smartmatic machines being utilized in the 2015 elections. The first machine scanned voter sheets filled out by hand. The current generation of machines are connected to a touchscreen voter sheet that lists the choices by party. Many candidates appear under multiple parties.

Below is a picture of the sample voter sheet for District 5 in Carabobo state, which mimics the touchscreen voter sheet.

Sample ballot.

Voter with ink-stained finger.
[Voters’ fingers are stained with ink once they have voted.]

Update 12:08 PM (EST): A report sent at 11:49 from Barlovento, at the Centro de Educación Inicial Gabriel Emilio Muñoz, Higuerote, reads:

1509 registered voters, 3 mesas. When we arrive, there is a commotion in front of the center with a number of people shouting at each other. A representative of the MUD from the sector has arrived to address a complaint of a voter who says he wasn’t able to vote.

Inside the voting center, we indeed discover a mesa where they are all aware of an incident where a man wasn’t able to vote. He placed his thumb in the fingerprint machine and it indicated that he’d already voted, and blocked him from using the voting machine. When they checked the paper registry of voters for the mesa, they saw that he hadn’t signed and put his fingerprint next to his name, indicating that he voted.

They write out a statement recognizing that he wasn’t able to exercise his right to vote and phoned the CNE headquarters to let them know about the problem.

After enquiring at the other mesas, and speaking to the various party witnesses, it appears that the rumor regarding a mesa member having told a voter how to vote while he or she was voting wasn’t true.  By the time we leave the center, the crowd of people that gathered outside is gone.

Update 12:03 PM (EST): Update from Unidad Educativa Jose Jesus Garcia in the city of Porlamar, Mariño municipality, Isla Margarita/Nueva Esparta:

If the trend from the voting center we just were at is general, Chavismo may be in trouble today in terms of the vote. The voting center is located in an eminently popular sector zone, where houses are generally self constructed. There was tremendous turnout in the voting booth with extremely long lines at multiple voting booths, and a high vote in other booths where the line was shorter because voting was going faster.

The first notable observation is that this sector is known as a highly Chavista sector. I spoke to around a dozen people, if not more (perhaps up to 18), and only 2 identified themselves as Chavistas. The majority, in fact the vast majority of people I spoke to waiting in line to vote, said they were voting for ‘change,’ meaning for the opposition. They said that they are tired of the long lines for basic goods and foods. Several mothers complained of getting up at 4 am to wait in line and not even being able to always buy food even doing that.

One of the two Chavistas I spoke with commented that “I’m Chavista” and said the economic situation in the country is due to ‘the economic war that is being waged by businessmen … every day I read about a businessman being put in jail due to withholding goods from the people’. This man is a construction worker/electrician and said that his neighborhood is still very Chavista. He also said he’d just been waiting about 25 minutes, though he was at the end of the line. Other people further along said they’d been waiting 3 hours and in a nearby booth for 5 hours. All of these people also said they were there to vote for ‘change.’ Over and over people mentioned the long lines. Another mother mentioned not being able to get formula for her baby, and how her 60-year-old father had to leave the country (I believe to go to Colombia) to get medicine.

Out of 7 voting booths in the center, 2 had extremely long lines, where people had been waiting a very long time, for 3 hours, and according to a few more, 5 hours to vote. In these tables there had been some issues with the voting machines, though there are different versions of what happened. In one table/booth there were between 2 and 4 cases (I was told 4, but another member of my delegation said she was told 2 just 15 minutes earlier) in which people said they hadn’t touched the machine and it emitted a null vote, and apparently this wasn’t because of waiting too long. The CNE technician with us came and explained to the people, and us, that “this is technically impossible” and gave some hypothetical explanations of what had happened. He was convinced that they had touched a button to issue a null vote without realizing it. At any rate, this caused some delay and the vote in this booth up until about 11:30 am was just a bit over half the nearby booths, which hadn’t had any problems. It seemed that several booths were functioning very smoothly in the center, with one having people waiting from 10 to 25 minutes before voting, and apparently only have a few small issues.

Most of the people who said that they are voting for the opposition said they’ve always voted opposition, but at least 2 said that they have changed after being Chavista and now they are switching to vote opposition.

Another observation was that the CNE and military folks escorting us we’re noticeably nervous as we talked to people. They said this was because the zone is known as being ‘very conflictive’ and even filled with ‘delinquents.’ They asked us to stay together and wanted to leave relatively quickly. However, they were extremely accommodating when we expressed interest in staying longer.

An interesting thing happened when I asked several people if they felt confident in the system. They explained that they’d seen someone ahead of them (in a relatively fast booth) have some sort of problem. The main CNE technician came over and explained to them what happened. After this they all looked relieved and said they felt much more confident that they wouldn’t have problems. However, several people saying they’d vote for the opposition expressed a lack of full faith in what the results would be.

Based on this center, it seems this election may have a very, very high turnout, though that hypothesis should be compared with other observations. In addition to the long lines people also said that they hadn’t seen such a high turnout in awhile here.

Update 11:43 AM (EST): Another update from Guacara in Carabobo state:

Schools made up all of the voting centers the international observers visited in Carabobo this morning. 6,090 voters were registered at the Diego Ibarra voting center in Guacara. They were split into 11 voting tables. When we arrived, voting was going quickly at all but one table. That table’s voting machine was running a little slow. In general, delays often occur due to some voters’, especially older voters’, lack of familiarity with touchscreen technology.Diego Ibarra voting center.

Update 11:29 AM (EST): A monitor in Barquisimeto reports:

At Escuela Dima Acosta de Alvarez, the third voting place we have visited in Barquisimiento: By 11:30, 1302 voted out of 3298. The city’s mayor said he had lots of faith and optimism in this election. He is opposition. He said there had been no major incident in any of the centers, and no major delays – just a few glitches.

Update 11:20 AM (EST): While many international media reports and commentaries have stoked fears that the Maduro government will refuse to accept the results if its coalition loses today, some prominent opposition figures are stating that results showing an opposition loss today could only result from fraud. Venezuela Analysis (who are also tracking the elections with regular updates today) noted:

Hard line leader Maria Corina Machado tweeted this morning, “Or we sweep a win, or there is a fraud [underway] that we won’t accept.”

Such opposition claims have been bolstered by media reports and a campaign by the U.S. government, the OAS, and other international actors to apparently discredit Venezuela’s electoral system, despite its many safeguards (see below), the presence of international witnesses to today’s elections (from UNASUR, among other organizations), and repeated monitoring and praise for the integrity of Venezuela’s electoral system in past elections, by the EU, the OAS, the Carter Center and others.

Fears of an opposition refusal to accept today’s results, or to refuse to accept a victory short of a supermajority, have precedent in 2013’s elections, when opposition leaders refused to recognize the official results and some violently protested. Some opposition figures – and international supporters – also claimed there was fraud in Venezuela’s 2004 recall referendum, despite a complete lack of evidence.

Update 11:03 AM (EST): A monitor reports from Unidad Ejecutiva Nuestra Señora del Carmen, Higuerote in Luis Brión municipality, Miranda state:

925 registered voters, two mesas. Hour-long line. 306 people have voted so far, and probably 200 currently in line at 11:15 am. Elderly people and pregnant women are invited to skip the line and go straight to their mesa. The president of one of the mesas failed to show up and a substitute had to be called. As a result the center only opened at 8 am.

Spoke to witnesses from MUD, GPPSB and NUVIPA and they reported no problems apart from the failure of the president to show up.

Update 10:59 AM (EST): A monitor reports from the Luis Agusto Machado Cisneros voting center in Guacara, Carabobo:

Step 1 – Voter ID check and voting table assignment – 12 tables, total of 6498 registered voters at center.

Luis Agusto Machado Cisneros voting center.

Update 10:47 AM (EST): A monitor reports from Universidad Pedagógica Argelis Laya in Higuerote:

Two mesas and 1100 registered voters. At 10:50 am, 340 people had voted. There was a 15 minute line outside of the center, and 10 minute lines for each mesa. One of the mesas was only able to open at 7:10 am as their voting machine short-circuited and had to be replaced.

A MUD witness tells us that the process is “very good.”  When asked if the process is secure, a few voters say yes, but when asked if they trust the results, they say that they only trust the results once they see them published.

The results for each mesa in the entire country will be published online within hours after voting centers close.

Update 10:31 AM (EST): A monitor reported from Iribarren municipality in Lara state at 10:12 am:

At Escuela Dra. Clement Bustamante, all is peaceful . At 10:15, the total numbered registered is 777. Of those, 269 have voted. [In the] last election, [this center] voted opposition.

We are impressed by the number of voting centers.

Update 10:22 AM (EST): A monitor in Barlovento, at the Unidad Educativa Nacional Gonzalez in Higuerote, reported at 10:01 EST:

3,882 voters, 7 mesas.

1104 people have voted so far. Long lines that started before the voting center opened. No major problems, but the voting machine at one of the mesas wasn’t working and had to be replaced by a CNE technician. That mesa only began working at 8:30 am.

A few of the other mesas only began working at 7:30 am due to mesa personnel not showing up. In every case, their substitutes were called and were able to replace them.

Some voters were spotted wearing clothing with PSUV party insignia. Normally they should have been sent home to change before they could vote, but this didn’t appear to happen.

Update 10:17 AM (EST): Update from Unidad Educativa Juan Cancio, semi urban sector of Asuncion, parish Asuncion, Municipality Arismendi:

This is a sector that is mixed classes: middle, upper-middle and popular. Tends towards opposition. I spoke with 6 people Voting line at Unidad Educativa Juan Canciowaiting in long lines, and 4 expressed open support for the opposition or positions clearly tending towards the opposition. The other 2 didn’t express preferences. A commercial pilot said, ‘I want change. I want this to be a normal country.’ He expressed hope that the process would be clean, but wouldn’t commit to saying he had full faith in the results. But he didn’t express grave doubts. I asked others why they were here to vote or help with the vote, instead of going to the beach. An opposition witness woman said, ‘This is too important [to miss and go to the beach] … the future of Venezuela is in play.’ She later expressed full faith in what will happen in her voting booth, but said she felt just ‘average’ about faith in the overall results. She said as well that the government and opposition locally have used state resources to campaign and/or bring voters to vote, e.g., state-owned cars were used. A PSUV witness said she didn’t think this happened, and didn’t have knowledge of it happening for either side.

There were fairly long lines to vote, though the people I asked in the middle of lines had been waiting half an hour. They said they’d wait as long as they had to, to vote. A young man said he was voting ‘because our constitution gives us the right to vote when we’re 18.’

Overall the voting center was without any significant problems. As in other centers, in several voting booths (mesas) witnesses and booth members (who are selected by lottery by the CNE, as party witnesses for both parties) said things were smooth. One […] said that several senior citizens couldn’t figure out how to vote for the candidates they wanted to, and by mistake had null votes. Seems to be a regular problem, but just a few cases per table.

Update 9:58 AM (EST): A monitor in Carabobo state reports:

Team of 7 international observers, including one from UNASUR, have visited 2 voting centers so far in Guacara, Carabobo state. Voters in good spirit in a heavily contested state. So far, the electorate skews older, but makes sense as younger voters may come later.

Update 9:54 AM (EST): An update sent at 8:46 am from Sucre includes another account of brisk voting, as reported elsewhere:

UNASUR accompaniment delegates from Ecuador reviewed the voting center in the Dolorita parish of Sucre, circuit 4, which has been the recipient of 22 new voting centers. They found that from registration to ink stain, the process took on average between 45 seconds to 1 minute. Four party representatives, two from MUD and PSUV respectively, were in attendance to observe the proceedings.

UNASUR delegates

Update 9:46 AM (EST): A monitor in Barquisimiento reports:

Outside Pablo Jose AlvarezIn Barquisimiento, we visited escuela Pablo Jose Alvarez . Out of 1300 registered by 9:30 am, 359 had already voted.

An older couple just leaving whispered that “the opposition is going to win,” with some relish. And we are in a chavista neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update 9:31 AM (Report received at 8:52 AM) EST: Barlovento, Miranda: Escuela Bolivariana Centro el Marquez, Acevedo municipality: Escuela Bolivariana Centro el Marquez, Acevedo

2 mesas, 348 voters per mesa. A longer line in front but both voters and party witnesses say that everyting is unfolding normally. At one of the mesas two of the personnel didn’t show up, but their substitutes are called and show up a bit later, allowing the mesa to open up at 6:25am.

Two elderly women and one illiterate man are confused by the electronic voting machine. In one case, a family member who has identified herself and signed in at the entrance accompanies one of the women. In the two other cases, the president of the mesa gets up and stands near the voter and explains with words and gestures how to vote.

There are MUD and GPPSB witnesses at each mesa and they all say that all is well, as does one representative of an independent party NUVIPA.

Update 9:15 AM (EST): A monitor in Barlovento, Miranda, provides an update from the voting center at the German Rosario high school in the Acevedo municipality (see below), which also presents a good rundown of how votiVoters in Acevedo municipalityng unfolds within the polling stations):

By 8:45 lines grow longer. But process still quick. Voters are received first by a row of young staffers with computers. They take the voters’ names and ID numbers and orient them toward one of the mesas. The voter then waits his/her turn and is then received by the presidente de mesa who enters their ID number into the electronic fingerprint machine. Once one or two of their thumb prints identify them as a voter at that mesa, they advance to the voting booth. When they’re ready to vote, the president of the mesa presses a blue button on the fingerprint machine that instructs the electronic voting machine to present the ballot to the voter. In this circuit, the voter votes twice (one party/coalition list and one nominal diputado), takes the receipt from the voting machine, folds it, places it in a sealed cardboard box, then goes to a table where they sign and place a thumb print next to their name on a list of voters for the mesa, and then puts their little finger in indelible ink. And that’s it! The whole process generally takes less than two minutes.

 

UPDATE 8:31 AM (EST): Election monitors in Nueva Esparta provide more context on the area where they are observing:

We’re here observing in Isla Margarita (Nueva Esparta state). Here’s some context to understand what’s happening.

Parish of Santa Ana

Margarita is the largest and most populated of three islands in the Caribbean (approx. 30 min flight from Caracas) forming the state of Nueva Esparta.

Isla Margarita is the premier tourist destination in Venezuela. Economically there are four primary sources of income for people who live here: tourism (service work and some owners of hotels and restaurants), public employment (with variation amongst comparatively well-paid professionals and relatively low-paid/minimum wage public-sector workers), commerce (wealthy importers and clothing and luggage stores) and fishing.

Parish of Santa Ana

According to folks we’ve talked to here (mostly from the CNE), the  popular classes tend to vote for Chavismo, although in the capital, Asuncion, the opposition wins with popular class vote. In Asuncion, there are many security forces and public school teachers who have recently voted for the opposition. It’s worth noting that this suggests that one of the opposition critiques – that public employees don’t feel comfortable voting for the opposition – doesn’t seem to hold here. The fishermen (apparently it’s all male workforce) tend towards Chavismo, as do service workers.

Politically, Nueva Esparta was opposition through 2004, and then Chavista from 2004 through 2012. Right now it’s seen as a battleground state where Chavismo and the opposition are running roughly equally in terms of political strength. The two wealthiest municipalities here (Maneiro and Mariño, which is split between wealthy zones and popular sector zones) are controlled by opposition mayors. Two other municipalities, Arismendi (middle class, lower middle class; lots of public employees), Marcano (wealthy importers, commercial zones, store owners, popular classes/fishers who vote Chavistas) also have opposition mayors. But 7 of the 11 municipalities in the state have Chavista mayors; these tend to be popular sectors.

The vote today is likely to be close here according to local observers. And unlike much of Venezuela, polarization seems a bit lower here, in the sense that people seem to get along more or less OK despite political differences.

In Santa Ana Parish, Municipality Gomez

Voters in Santa Ana Parish
[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this update stated that the opposition won gubernatorial elections in Nueva Esparta state in 2012. In fact, the current governor, Carlos Mata Figueroa, is Chavista.]

UPDATE 8:21 AM (EST): An election monitor reports:

Barlovento, Miranda: voting center at the German Rosario high school in the Acevedo municipality. 8 mesas de votacion with around 4,400 voters. The mesas were all up and running by 6:30am. In a couple of cases, mesa personnel (selected randomly within the community by the CNE) didn’t arrive and so they were replaced by pre-selected substitutes.

At 8am: No line in front of the voting center and very short lines for each of the mesas. Everything going smoothly, people coming out of the center surprised by lack of voters.

UPDATE 8:05 AM (EST): One of our election monitors reports that she was was awakened this morning at 5 AM by what she thought was firecrackers, or gunfire. “It turned out to be the cannons calling people to vote.”

She writes: “Every speech I’ve heard in the last week has focused on peace. Venezuela is a peaceful country – at least that is what Maduro is saying.”

UPDATE 6:43 AM (EST): The Miami Herald has filed its initial report of the day. It reads, in part: “Although the opposition is believed to have an advantage, it’s still unclear how that lead will play out in the final results. Analysts caution that the race consists of 114 separate elections (in individual districts and states) making a final outcome hard to predict. Years of gerrymandering also give the ruling party candidates an advantage.”

It is indeed important to note that the election is really the many separate contests, as the Herald states, rather than one national race as with presidential elections. Unfortunately, in the run-up to the election, some commentators and media outlets have described the election in ways that make it appear as more of a single, nationwide contest. As we noted in our new paper, there may end up being a significant disparity between what national opinion polling would suggest and Assembly seats won. It is also important to note that what the Herald describes as “gerrymandering.” From our report:

It is important to understand that the difference between the percentage of the vote and the percentage of seats received by a party or coalition is not the result of “gerrymandering” or any other manipulation of districts, as is sometimes suggested in the media. Like the United States and many other countries, Venezuela has a system of representation that gives disproportional representation to states with smaller populations. In the U.S. this is done through allocating two Senators to each state, regardless of population. Thus Wyoming, with a population of 584,000, has the same number of Senators as California, which has more than 39 million people.

UPDATE 6:24 AM (EST): An election monitor reports from Nueva Esparta:

Everything seems to be going smoothly at voting center in Nueva Esparta. There are 5 voting booths (mesas) here and all but 1 had all 5 members: 3 selected by lottery by CNE and 2 witnesses, 1 each for government and opposition. The voting booth members voted first then the public. A regular flow of voters by 6:25 AM. As of 6:35 AM no problems reported.

UPDATE 6:12 AM (EST): Telesur is reporting “Polls opened early Sunday in Venezuela’s National Assembly election, with people lining up at polling stations well before the start of voting at 6:00am local time?.” The article includes useful summaries of how Venezuela’s electoral system works, with an informative video and a step-by-step explanation of the voting process. (One omission from the latter is that a random sample of 54 percent of votes are audited on election night.)


On Sunday, December 6, Venezuela will be holding legislative elections and CEPR will be on the ground transmitting live updates throughout the day with the help of election monitors located in different parts of the country.

We will be monitoring every stage of the electoral process: first, the opening of voting centers early in the day; second, the voting process itself – which is scheduled to begin at 6:00 am Venezuela time, and end at 6:00 pm (or until there are no more voters standing in line to vote); third, the Citizens’ Audit in which political party representatives and members of the community audit the electronic results of 54 percent of voting machines by comparing them with a tally of paper receipts; and, finally, the announcement of the results by Venezuela’s electoral authority – the National Electoral Council (CNE by its Spanish initials).

Venezuelans will be electing national representatives – diputadas and diputados – to fill all 167 seats of the country’s unicameral legislature, the National Assembly.   Two big party coalitions are facing off: the pro-government Patriotic Pole (Gran Polo Patriótico Simón Bolívar, or GPPSB) versus the opposition Democratic Unity Platform coalition (Mesa de Unidad Democrática, or MUD).  

The stakes are potentially high in these elections, as polls have suggested that the governing party – the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, or PSUV) – could lose its majority in the Assembly for the first time since 1999.  With various polls putting President Nicolás Maduro’s favorability ratings in the low 20s, some commentators are predicting that opposition parties have a good chance of achieving a three-fifths or two-thirds supermajority. This would allow a united bloc of opposition parties to exercise special legislative powers such as, in the case of a two-thirds majority, approving constitutional reforms, removing Supreme Court judges or appointing CNE members; and, in the case of three-fifths, removing government ministers from the cabinet.

However, given the nature of legislative elections and the particularities of Venezuela’s voting system, it is highly unlikely that the percentage of seats that the opposition will receive in these elections will closely track the levels of support that national polls suggest that they have.  As we show in a new report with projections of a range of possible results in these elections, we are likely to see a significant gap between the total votes that go to the opposition on a national level, and the seats that they end up obtaining.   

This is in part due to the much-commented fact that more sparsely populated rural areas that have typically been more supportive of the government are disproportionately represented in the legislative voting system.  This is not, as some suggest, a result of gerrymandering or some other politically motivated manipulation of the system, but rather because the country’s 1999 constitution ensures that, much like in the U.S. Senate, smaller states are disproportionately represented. 

Under the country’s mixed nominal and proportional voting systems, 113 representatives are nominally elected (voters vote for a name on the ballot) and 51 are elected by list (in which voters vote for a party, or a coalition of parties).  Representatives elected by list are elected at the state level (Venezuela has 24 states), whereas those elected by name are elected at the level of each one of the country’s 87 electoral circumscriptions. In addition, three indigenous representatives are elected to the National Assembly by voters in three groups of states with high concentrations of indigenous citizens.

Elections are frequent in Venezuela – nearly 20 have been held since 1998 — and electoral experts consider them to be exceedingly transparent and secure thanks to an advanced electronic voting system that is audited at every level by opposition and pro-government party representatives, as well as by independent electoral observers. Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center has monitored nearly 100 elections worldwide, has referred to the Venezuelan electoral system as “the best in the world.”

And yet, over the last few weeks, the U.S. government, the head of the Organization of American States and various politicians (including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton) have strongly questioned the integrity of Venezuela’s electoral process, even suggesting that the process may be “rigged.” Given that no evidence of possible fraud has emerged in these or prior elections (going back to the mid-90s) CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot has stated, in a recent op-ed, that these foreign actors appear to be “promoting instability and possible violence.”

We’ve already seen a similar international campaign.  Following the presidential elections of April 2013, the opposition’s presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, contested the final results, without presenting any evidence of manipulation or fraud.  As opposition supporters took to the streets — and, in some instances, perpetrated violent attacks in which government supporters were killed — both the Obama administration and the OAS Secretary General supported Capriles’ demand for a recount (a technically impossible demand when dealing with an electronic voting system). 

Over the years, CEPR has taken a hard look at various elections in the region and has had live blogs for Venezuela’s 2012 and 2013 presidential elections, Honduras’ 2013 presidential and legislative elections, and Haiti’s 2010 presidential and legislative elections. As we have done with past live blogs, we and other election monitors will describe the electoral process as we see it and will incorporate press reports, statements from state officials, political party spokespeople and foreign actors as they appear.  We hope you can tune in starting early Sunday morning!

Three batches of Hillary Clinton’s emails have now been released and, though many emails are heavily redacted, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of how Clinton handled major international developments during her tenure at the State Department. One of the first big issues to hit Clinton’s desk was the June 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras that forced democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya into exile. Officially the U.S. joined the rest of the hemisphere in opposing the coup, but Zelaya—who had grown close to radical social movements at home and signed cooperation agreements with Venezuela—wasn’t in the administration’s good books.

The released emails provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of how Clinton pursued a contradictory policy of appearing to back the restoration of democracy in Honduras while actually undermining efforts to get Zelaya back into power. The Intercept and other outlets have provided useful analyses of these emails, but there are a number of revealing passages, some in the most recent batch of emails, that haven’t yet received the attention they deserve.

A number of Clinton emails show how, starting shortly after the coup, HRC and her team shifted the deliberations on Honduras from the Organization of American States (OAS)—where Zelaya could benefit from the strong support of left-wing allies throughout the region—to the San José negotiation process in Costa Rica. There, representatives of the coup regime were placed on an equal footing with representatives of Zelaya’s constitutional government, and Costa Rican president Oscar Arias (a close U.S. ally) as mediator. Unsurprisingly, the negotiation process only succeeded in one thing: keeping Zelaya out of office for the rest of his constitutional mandate. 

From the outset, U.S. interests and policy goals in Honduras were clearly identified in the emails that darted back and forth between Clinton and her advisors. On the day of the coup (June 28, 2009), Tom Shannon, the outgoing Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, provided an update for Clinton and her close staff that noted that he was “calling the new SouthCom Commander to ensure a coordinated U.S. approach [since] we have big military equities in Honduras through Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano airbase.” A later email, with talking points for a phone call between Clinton and the Spanish foreign minister, indicated that Clinton’s team was already focused on making sure that Honduras’ upcoming national elections would take place on schedule (in November of 2009):

We hope Spain will work with us and the OAS to ensure a restoration of democratic order that will allow Honduras to carry through with its electoral timetable (presidential vote scheduled for November).

This talking point would prove to be mostly false. In later emails we see how the OAS is removed from the U.S. agenda, and the “restoration of democratic order” takes a back seat to the State Department’s goal of going forward with Honduras’ November elections no matter what. 

A little over a week after the coup, Shannon sent an email to Clinton, via her aide Huma Abedin, with background notes for a July 6 phone call to then President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia. In it he discusses a burgeoning plan to bypass the OAS—where many governments were growing increasingly impatient with the U.S. appearing to want to bolster the coup regime—and organize direct talks between the coup regime and the exiled Zelaya government in Costa Rica, where they would be closely supervised by president Arias and U.S. State Department officials. The coup regime agreed to the Arias mediation, while vehemently rejecting OAS mediation. Zelaya understandably balked at the idea at first. In his message, Shannon outlines a plan for getting Uribe to lobby Zelaya to accept Arias’ offer of mediation of direct talks:   

[Uribe] like many other leaders with an interest in Central America, is worried that Honduras is slipping towards confrontation and violence. He probably does not think [OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel] Insulza is up to the task. [Secretary of State Clinton] should be aware that Arias is prepared to offer his services. I spoke with the Costa Rican [foreign minister], who said the de facto government has reached out to Arias, and that the Costa Ricans will be looking for a way to make the offer to Zelaya. Uribe knows Zelaya and has some influence. Uribe might want to talk with Arias and offer to help move Zelaya in the right direction. (Although Uribe and Zelaya come from different ends of the political spectrum, they are both ranchers and love horses, and this has created some comradeship.)

In addition to this lobbying by proxy, Zelaya was surely under direct pressure from Clinton, who he met with on July 7 in Washington. Following the meeting, Clinton announced to the press that Zelaya had accepted to have Arias mediate but that the U.S. also continued “to support regional efforts through the OAS to bring about a peaceful resolution that is consistent with the terms of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”

The emails provide strong evidence that the State Department had in fact no intention of pursuing a resolution to the crisis at the OAS. In the weeks that followed, a regional tug-of-war took place, with various OAS member governments trying to keep Honduras on the agenda at the OAS, and get members to agree to stronger measures against the coup regime, and the U.S. only showing interest in the Costa Rica mediation.

On July 23, the Bolivian government introduced a draft OAS resolution that, among other things, called for the “immediate, secure and unconditional return of [Zelaya] to his constitutional functions,” the non-recognition of “any government that would emerge from the constitutional rupture” in Honduras, and for OAS member states to implement vigorous economic and trade sanctions so long as democracy was not restored.

Though there appeared to be broad support at the OAS for such measures, the U.S. wasn’t interested in seeing them discussed and worked to try to ensure that the San Jose negotiations would take precedence above all else. A July 31 email from Craig Kelly—deputy to Shannon and U.S. point person for the negotiations—couldn’t have expressed U.S. policy more clearly:

The OAS meeting today turned into a non-event [it was canceled]—just as we hoped. We want Arias out front. We will keep at it.

Predictably, the coup regime only seemed to be interested in making the negotiations drag on indefinitely. An August 18 email from Kelly acknowledged that the “de factos” were engaging in “a deliberate delaying tactic designed to move the country toward elections without Zelaya.”  But Clinton was reluctant to take more decisive measures, despite some of her closest advisors urging her to do so. Anne-Marie Slaughter, then director of Policy Planning at the State Department, sent an email to Clinton on August 16 strongly urging her to “take bold action” and to “find that [the] coup was a ‘military coup’ under U.S. law,” a move that would have immediately triggered the suspension of all non-humanitarian U.S. assistance to Honduras.  

In her email, Slaughter correctly diagnosed the region’s deep disappointment with the administration’s handling of the Honduras crisis:

I got lots of signals last week that we are losing ground in Latin America every day the Honduras crisis continues; high level people from both the business and the NGO community say that even our friends are beginning to think we are not really committed to the norm of constitutional democracy we have worked so hard to build over the last 20 year [sic]. The current stalemate favors the status quo; the de facto regime has every incentive to run out the clock as long as they think we will have to accept any post-election government. I urge you to think about taking bold action now to breathe new life into the process and signal that regardless what happens on the Hill, you and the president are serious.

“Regardless what happens on the Hill,” was a reference to the aggressive maneuvers of a few Republican Congressional members who strongly supported the coup regime. With the help of arcane Senate procedural rules, Florida Senator George Lemieux and South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint had been blocking two key State Department appointments—Shannon as ambassador to Brazil and Arturo Valenzuela as Shannon’s replacement at the helm of Western Hemisphere Affairs. An August 31 email from State’s legislative liaison described a conversation with DeMint’s foreign policy staffer that clearly laid out what DeMint was after:

Chris [Socha, DeMint’s staffer] warned that DeMint is monitoring closely the Administration’s position with regards to sanctions. He warned that if a coup determination is made and new sanctions levied, this could very well have an adverse impact on how Arturo’s nomination moves forward.

Meanwhile, many Democrats were pushing hard and publically for a “military coup” determination. In early August 15 House Democrats signed a letter asking the State Department to “fully acknowledge that a military coup has taken place.” On September 3, Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills sent Clinton an LA Times op-ed by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman entitled “Honduras: Make it official—it’s a coup.”  Berman emphasized that it was critical for Clinton to make the determination quickly:  

Honduras will hold presidential and parliamentary elections Nov. 29, and every passing day gives Micheletti and his associates the chance to tighten their illegitimate hold on the reins of power.

In the end, as we know, Clinton spurned the advice of Slaughter and fellow Democrats and never used the words “military” and “coup” together to describe what had happened in Honduras. Though some U.S. assistance was temporarily put on hold, other critical assistance, like a $205 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Honduras grant, continued to flow (while in other countries that experienced coups in 2009, namely Madagascar and Mauritania, MCC funds were suspended within 1–3 days, and MCC compacts were terminated).  

On October 30, President Arias presided over the signing of an agreement between Honduras’ constitutional government and the coup regime that stipulated the return of Zelaya for the final weeks of his mandate, but with limited powers and with a “unity government” that would include coup supporters. Under the agreement, the national elections would take place on November 28. In addition to being a far cry from a complete restoration of democracy, the agreement text included a dangerous loophole:  Honduras’ congress would be called on to endorse Zelaya’s restitution. In an earlier email discussing the San José negotiations, Craig Kelly underlined that “the understanding is that [Zelaya] would resume limited functions with a national unity cabinet until he hands over power to an elected successor.”

But, four days after the agreement was signed, the U.S. official position grew much more flexible. On November 3, Shannon announced to CNN en español that the U.S. would be prepared to recognize the elections even if Zelaya wasn’t first reinstated. The rest of the region reacted with shock and anger. Major regional groups like the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) had already declared back in August that they wouldn’t recognize elections held under the de facto government. They then restated this position on the eve of the Honduran elections.  

But, with the U.S. being by far the most powerful external actor in Honduras, the coup regime had little incentive to allow the restoration of democracy.  The congress voted against Zelaya’s reinstatement and the elections took place under a so-called “unity government” that included no one from the constitutional government, despite the fact that nearly every country in the region besides the U.S. considered them to be illegitimate. Shannon, in an email written the day after the elections, encouraged Clinton to portray the electoral process as deeply democratic:

The turnout (probably a record) and the clear rejection of the Liberal Party shows our approach was the right one, and puts Brazil and others who would not recognize the election in an impossible position. As we think about what to say, I would strongly recommend that we not be shy. We should congratulate the Honduran people, we should connect today’s vote to the deep democratic vocation of the Honduran people, and we should call on the community of democratic nations (and especially those of the Americas) to recognize, respect, and respond to this accomplishment of the Honduran people.

As was later revealed, the election turnout numbers had actually been grossly inflated by Honduras’ electoral authority. And the elections themselves had been marred by violence and media censorship.

A few days later, Craig Kelly emailed Clinton—via Clinton’s deputy chief of staff—with a statement from Senator Lemieux announcing his “decision to allow the nomination of Tom Shannon to move forward.” In his statement, Lemieux said:

I have received sufficient commitments from Secretary Clinton that the Administration’s policy in Latin America, and specifically in Honduras and Cuba, will take a course that promotes democratic ideals and goals.

Were the holds on Shannon and Valenzuela’s nominations a major factor in Clinton’s decision to allow the Honduran coup regime to have its way? Did Clinton confidante Lanny Davis, who was paid by Honduran businesses to lobby in favor of the coup, also play an important role in influencing Clinton, as some have suggested?

Perhaps these factors did influence Clinton, but it’s pretty clear that another factor played a major role in her decision to allow the coup regime to prevail: long-standing U.S. policy to assert political control in the region. A careful reading of the Clinton emails and Wikileaked U.S. diplomatic cables from the beginning of her tenure, expose a Latin America policy that is often guided by efforts to isolate and remove left-wing governments in the region (see “Latin American and the Caribbean” and “Venezuela” in the new book The Wikileaks Files). The chapter on Latin America in Clinton’s memoir Hard Choices reaffirms this vision of U.S. Latin America policy, and one short passage from the chapter is particularly telling:

We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.

Needless to say, Honduras’ elections weren’t seen as legitimate by most of the rest of the Western Hemisphere, and the question of Zelaya was anything but moot. Despite heavy U.S. lobbying of “friendly” governments in Latin America—Valenzuela’s first big mission after taking over Shannon’s WHA job in December 2009—many countries would refuse to recognize the Honduran government until Zelaya was finally allowed to return to his country in May of 2011. Latin America also shifted further away from the U.S. In a context of growing frustration with U.S. policy, a new multilateral group was created—the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (with the initials CELAC in Spanish)—with the participation of every government in the region except the U.S., Canada (that had backed U.S. hemispheric policy all the way), and the de facto government of Honduras (only admitted after Zelaya’s return to Honduras in 2011). 

The “hard choices” taken by Clinton and her team didn’t just damage U.S. relations with Latin America. They contributed to the enormous damage done to Honduras. In the years following the coup, economic growth has stalled, while poverty and income inequality have risen significantly. Violence has spiraled out of control. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has increased military assistance to Honduras, despite alarming reports of killings and human rights abuses by increasingly militarized Honduran security forces. Many Congressional Democrats have asked for a complete suspension of security assistance while human rights violations continue with impunity. But neither the Clinton nor Kerry State Departments have heeded their call.

Three batches of Hillary Clinton’s emails have now been released and, though many emails are heavily redacted, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of how Clinton handled major international developments during her tenure at the State Department. One of the first big issues to hit Clinton’s desk was the June 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras that forced democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya into exile. Officially the U.S. joined the rest of the hemisphere in opposing the coup, but Zelaya—who had grown close to radical social movements at home and signed cooperation agreements with Venezuela—wasn’t in the administration’s good books.

The released emails provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of how Clinton pursued a contradictory policy of appearing to back the restoration of democracy in Honduras while actually undermining efforts to get Zelaya back into power. The Intercept and other outlets have provided useful analyses of these emails, but there are a number of revealing passages, some in the most recent batch of emails, that haven’t yet received the attention they deserve.

A number of Clinton emails show how, starting shortly after the coup, HRC and her team shifted the deliberations on Honduras from the Organization of American States (OAS)—where Zelaya could benefit from the strong support of left-wing allies throughout the region—to the San José negotiation process in Costa Rica. There, representatives of the coup regime were placed on an equal footing with representatives of Zelaya’s constitutional government, and Costa Rican president Oscar Arias (a close U.S. ally) as mediator. Unsurprisingly, the negotiation process only succeeded in one thing: keeping Zelaya out of office for the rest of his constitutional mandate. 

From the outset, U.S. interests and policy goals in Honduras were clearly identified in the emails that darted back and forth between Clinton and her advisors. On the day of the coup (June 28, 2009), Tom Shannon, the outgoing Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, provided an update for Clinton and her close staff that noted that he was “calling the new SouthCom Commander to ensure a coordinated U.S. approach [since] we have big military equities in Honduras through Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano airbase.” A later email, with talking points for a phone call between Clinton and the Spanish foreign minister, indicated that Clinton’s team was already focused on making sure that Honduras’ upcoming national elections would take place on schedule (in November of 2009):

We hope Spain will work with us and the OAS to ensure a restoration of democratic order that will allow Honduras to carry through with its electoral timetable (presidential vote scheduled for November).

This talking point would prove to be mostly false. In later emails we see how the OAS is removed from the U.S. agenda, and the “restoration of democratic order” takes a back seat to the State Department’s goal of going forward with Honduras’ November elections no matter what. 

A little over a week after the coup, Shannon sent an email to Clinton, via her aide Huma Abedin, with background notes for a July 6 phone call to then President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia. In it he discusses a burgeoning plan to bypass the OAS—where many governments were growing increasingly impatient with the U.S. appearing to want to bolster the coup regime—and organize direct talks between the coup regime and the exiled Zelaya government in Costa Rica, where they would be closely supervised by president Arias and U.S. State Department officials. The coup regime agreed to the Arias mediation, while vehemently rejecting OAS mediation. Zelaya understandably balked at the idea at first. In his message, Shannon outlines a plan for getting Uribe to lobby Zelaya to accept Arias’ offer of mediation of direct talks:   

[Uribe] like many other leaders with an interest in Central America, is worried that Honduras is slipping towards confrontation and violence. He probably does not think [OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel] Insulza is up to the task. [Secretary of State Clinton] should be aware that Arias is prepared to offer his services. I spoke with the Costa Rican [foreign minister], who said the de facto government has reached out to Arias, and that the Costa Ricans will be looking for a way to make the offer to Zelaya. Uribe knows Zelaya and has some influence. Uribe might want to talk with Arias and offer to help move Zelaya in the right direction. (Although Uribe and Zelaya come from different ends of the political spectrum, they are both ranchers and love horses, and this has created some comradeship.)

In addition to this lobbying by proxy, Zelaya was surely under direct pressure from Clinton, who he met with on July 7 in Washington. Following the meeting, Clinton announced to the press that Zelaya had accepted to have Arias mediate but that the U.S. also continued “to support regional efforts through the OAS to bring about a peaceful resolution that is consistent with the terms of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”

The emails provide strong evidence that the State Department had in fact no intention of pursuing a resolution to the crisis at the OAS. In the weeks that followed, a regional tug-of-war took place, with various OAS member governments trying to keep Honduras on the agenda at the OAS, and get members to agree to stronger measures against the coup regime, and the U.S. only showing interest in the Costa Rica mediation.

On July 23, the Bolivian government introduced a draft OAS resolution that, among other things, called for the “immediate, secure and unconditional return of [Zelaya] to his constitutional functions,” the non-recognition of “any government that would emerge from the constitutional rupture” in Honduras, and for OAS member states to implement vigorous economic and trade sanctions so long as democracy was not restored.

Though there appeared to be broad support at the OAS for such measures, the U.S. wasn’t interested in seeing them discussed and worked to try to ensure that the San Jose negotiations would take precedence above all else. A July 31 email from Craig Kelly—deputy to Shannon and U.S. point person for the negotiations—couldn’t have expressed U.S. policy more clearly:

The OAS meeting today turned into a non-event [it was canceled]—just as we hoped. We want Arias out front. We will keep at it.

Predictably, the coup regime only seemed to be interested in making the negotiations drag on indefinitely. An August 18 email from Kelly acknowledged that the “de factos” were engaging in “a deliberate delaying tactic designed to move the country toward elections without Zelaya.”  But Clinton was reluctant to take more decisive measures, despite some of her closest advisors urging her to do so. Anne-Marie Slaughter, then director of Policy Planning at the State Department, sent an email to Clinton on August 16 strongly urging her to “take bold action” and to “find that [the] coup was a ‘military coup’ under U.S. law,” a move that would have immediately triggered the suspension of all non-humanitarian U.S. assistance to Honduras.  

In her email, Slaughter correctly diagnosed the region’s deep disappointment with the administration’s handling of the Honduras crisis:

I got lots of signals last week that we are losing ground in Latin America every day the Honduras crisis continues; high level people from both the business and the NGO community say that even our friends are beginning to think we are not really committed to the norm of constitutional democracy we have worked so hard to build over the last 20 year [sic]. The current stalemate favors the status quo; the de facto regime has every incentive to run out the clock as long as they think we will have to accept any post-election government. I urge you to think about taking bold action now to breathe new life into the process and signal that regardless what happens on the Hill, you and the president are serious.

“Regardless what happens on the Hill,” was a reference to the aggressive maneuvers of a few Republican Congressional members who strongly supported the coup regime. With the help of arcane Senate procedural rules, Florida Senator George Lemieux and South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint had been blocking two key State Department appointments—Shannon as ambassador to Brazil and Arturo Valenzuela as Shannon’s replacement at the helm of Western Hemisphere Affairs. An August 31 email from State’s legislative liaison described a conversation with DeMint’s foreign policy staffer that clearly laid out what DeMint was after:

Chris [Socha, DeMint’s staffer] warned that DeMint is monitoring closely the Administration’s position with regards to sanctions. He warned that if a coup determination is made and new sanctions levied, this could very well have an adverse impact on how Arturo’s nomination moves forward.

Meanwhile, many Democrats were pushing hard and publically for a “military coup” determination. In early August 15 House Democrats signed a letter asking the State Department to “fully acknowledge that a military coup has taken place.” On September 3, Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills sent Clinton an LA Times op-ed by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman entitled “Honduras: Make it official—it’s a coup.”  Berman emphasized that it was critical for Clinton to make the determination quickly:  

Honduras will hold presidential and parliamentary elections Nov. 29, and every passing day gives Micheletti and his associates the chance to tighten their illegitimate hold on the reins of power.

In the end, as we know, Clinton spurned the advice of Slaughter and fellow Democrats and never used the words “military” and “coup” together to describe what had happened in Honduras. Though some U.S. assistance was temporarily put on hold, other critical assistance, like a $205 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Honduras grant, continued to flow (while in other countries that experienced coups in 2009, namely Madagascar and Mauritania, MCC funds were suspended within 1–3 days, and MCC compacts were terminated).  

On October 30, President Arias presided over the signing of an agreement between Honduras’ constitutional government and the coup regime that stipulated the return of Zelaya for the final weeks of his mandate, but with limited powers and with a “unity government” that would include coup supporters. Under the agreement, the national elections would take place on November 28. In addition to being a far cry from a complete restoration of democracy, the agreement text included a dangerous loophole:  Honduras’ congress would be called on to endorse Zelaya’s restitution. In an earlier email discussing the San José negotiations, Craig Kelly underlined that “the understanding is that [Zelaya] would resume limited functions with a national unity cabinet until he hands over power to an elected successor.”

But, four days after the agreement was signed, the U.S. official position grew much more flexible. On November 3, Shannon announced to CNN en español that the U.S. would be prepared to recognize the elections even if Zelaya wasn’t first reinstated. The rest of the region reacted with shock and anger. Major regional groups like the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) had already declared back in August that they wouldn’t recognize elections held under the de facto government. They then restated this position on the eve of the Honduran elections.  

But, with the U.S. being by far the most powerful external actor in Honduras, the coup regime had little incentive to allow the restoration of democracy.  The congress voted against Zelaya’s reinstatement and the elections took place under a so-called “unity government” that included no one from the constitutional government, despite the fact that nearly every country in the region besides the U.S. considered them to be illegitimate. Shannon, in an email written the day after the elections, encouraged Clinton to portray the electoral process as deeply democratic:

The turnout (probably a record) and the clear rejection of the Liberal Party shows our approach was the right one, and puts Brazil and others who would not recognize the election in an impossible position. As we think about what to say, I would strongly recommend that we not be shy. We should congratulate the Honduran people, we should connect today’s vote to the deep democratic vocation of the Honduran people, and we should call on the community of democratic nations (and especially those of the Americas) to recognize, respect, and respond to this accomplishment of the Honduran people.

As was later revealed, the election turnout numbers had actually been grossly inflated by Honduras’ electoral authority. And the elections themselves had been marred by violence and media censorship.

A few days later, Craig Kelly emailed Clinton—via Clinton’s deputy chief of staff—with a statement from Senator Lemieux announcing his “decision to allow the nomination of Tom Shannon to move forward.” In his statement, Lemieux said:

I have received sufficient commitments from Secretary Clinton that the Administration’s policy in Latin America, and specifically in Honduras and Cuba, will take a course that promotes democratic ideals and goals.

Were the holds on Shannon and Valenzuela’s nominations a major factor in Clinton’s decision to allow the Honduran coup regime to have its way? Did Clinton confidante Lanny Davis, who was paid by Honduran businesses to lobby in favor of the coup, also play an important role in influencing Clinton, as some have suggested?

Perhaps these factors did influence Clinton, but it’s pretty clear that another factor played a major role in her decision to allow the coup regime to prevail: long-standing U.S. policy to assert political control in the region. A careful reading of the Clinton emails and Wikileaked U.S. diplomatic cables from the beginning of her tenure, expose a Latin America policy that is often guided by efforts to isolate and remove left-wing governments in the region (see “Latin American and the Caribbean” and “Venezuela” in the new book The Wikileaks Files). The chapter on Latin America in Clinton’s memoir Hard Choices reaffirms this vision of U.S. Latin America policy, and one short passage from the chapter is particularly telling:

We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.

Needless to say, Honduras’ elections weren’t seen as legitimate by most of the rest of the Western Hemisphere, and the question of Zelaya was anything but moot. Despite heavy U.S. lobbying of “friendly” governments in Latin America—Valenzuela’s first big mission after taking over Shannon’s WHA job in December 2009—many countries would refuse to recognize the Honduran government until Zelaya was finally allowed to return to his country in May of 2011. Latin America also shifted further away from the U.S. In a context of growing frustration with U.S. policy, a new multilateral group was created—the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (with the initials CELAC in Spanish)—with the participation of every government in the region except the U.S., Canada (that had backed U.S. hemispheric policy all the way), and the de facto government of Honduras (only admitted after Zelaya’s return to Honduras in 2011). 

The “hard choices” taken by Clinton and her team didn’t just damage U.S. relations with Latin America. They contributed to the enormous damage done to Honduras. In the years following the coup, economic growth has stalled, while poverty and income inequality have risen significantly. Violence has spiraled out of control. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has increased military assistance to Honduras, despite alarming reports of killings and human rights abuses by increasingly militarized Honduran security forces. Many Congressional Democrats have asked for a complete suspension of security assistance while human rights violations continue with impunity. But neither the Clinton nor Kerry State Departments have heeded their call.

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