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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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.

Members of Congress have once again called on the Obama administration to stop funding Honduras’ security forces. Alarmed at the rampant militarization of policing activities throughout the country and a rash of recent reports of human rights abuses involving Honduran security forces, 21 House Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry on August 19 expressing their concern and making a series of specific requests, including “the suspension and re-evaluation of further training and support for Honduran police and military units until the Honduran government adequately addresses human rights abuses.” 

For several years now U.S. legislators have been urging the administration to either suspend or overhaul its security assistance programs in Honduras. Back in March of 2012, 94 Democrats asked then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to suspend military and police assistance, noting “credible allegations of widespread, serious allegations of human rights abuses attributed to [Honduran] security forces” and the impunity surrounding targeted attacks against “human rights defenders, journalists, community leaders and opposition activists.” Two years later, 108 House Democrats sent a letter to Kerry expressing concern over the accelerated militarization of domestic law enforcement under current president Juan Orlando Hernández and calling for the State Department to review its security programs in Honduras. Similar letters have appeared in the U.S. Senate, with, for instance, 21 senators questioning Honduran government compliance with human rights conditions attached to U.S. security assistance.

The Congressional letter of August 19 – led by Representatives Hank Johnson (a leading opponent of militarized law enforcement in the U.S.) and Jan Schakowsky (who has led several previous letters regarding Honduras’ appalling human rights situation) – describes the steady militarization of policing that has taken place in Honduras since 2010: The massive deployment of army units to police Honduran streets, followed by the creation of a 3000-strong military police force under a military line of command and a new “super-ministry” of Security combining civilian and military security institutions under the direction of a recently retired general.

This militarization trend is troubling enough in a country that only emerged from military rule in the 1980s and was subjected to a military coup d’état in June of 2009, but there is also abundant documented evidence of widespread abuses perpetrated by military personnel and militarized police, some of which is described in the letter:

Over the last few months, military police agents have reportedly threatened and harassed journalists, community leaders, and members of the indigenous organization COPINH; forcibly evicted small farmers without a warrant; raided the home of a student leader involved in recent protests; and shot and killed an unarmed woman selling mangos, among other alleged crimes. As reported by Al-Jazeera, Defensores en Linea and Today Media Network, these forces have also allegedly conducted raids against the homes of opposition activists, and participated in the killing of land-rights activists and peaceful demonstrators.

The U.S. government’s response to these alarming developments has been to request more security assistance for Honduras, in particular through an increase in funding for the opaque Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). There’s no indication that the administration is concerned about Honduras’ militarization or that it is seeking to leverage U.S. security assistance to try to reverse the trend. On the contrary, it has been providing direct support to militarization efforts, as the Johnson/Schakowsky letter notes:

We are concerned about Honduran media reports that in mid-May of this year, a team of 300 U.S. military and civilian personnel, including Marines and the FBI, conducted “rapid response” training with 500 [agents from] FUSINA [a militarized security task force combining personnel from police, military, intelligence and judicial agencies], using U.S. helicopters and planes, despite allegations regarding the agency’s repeated involvement in human-rights violations.

Similarly, U.S. green beret special forces have been training a militarized Honduran police unit called the TIGRES [which stands for Intelligence Troop and Special Security Response Groups], “instilling fundamental principles of close quarters battle and knowing how to execute them amidst the chaos that is combat”, according to a U.S. Army article published in March. Though touted as an exemplary, elite force, nearly two dozen TIGRES agents, trained and vetted by the U.S. government, were caught stealing over $1.3 million in drug money following a counter-narcotics operation late last year.

In addition to asking for security assistance to Honduras to be put on hold, the Johnson/Schakowsky letter makes a series of detailed requests which focus on getting the State Department to genuinely implement human rights safeguards required by law and to increase transparency around security aid programs in Honduras.

The letter asks for:

        “The State Department’s strict evaluation of U.S. support and training for the Honduran police and military in accordance with human rights conditions placed in the FY2015 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Act.” [A Senate Appropriations Committee report that accompanies the FY2015 SFOPS Act specifies that 50% of security assistance allocated to Honduras under International Narcotic Control and Law Enforcement and Foreign Military Funding headings be withheld pending State Department certification of Honduran government compliance with six human rights and rule of law conditions that include the investigation and prosecution of “army and police personnel who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights.” In the past, the State Department has generally certified the Honduran government as compliant with conditions set by the Committee, despite the strong misgivings expressed by 21 U.S. senators (i.e., 1/5th of the Senate). It’s worth noting that the Committee report attached to pending FY2016 appropriations legislation has conditioned 75% of all assistance under State and Foreign Operations appropriations to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and includes, among its new set of conditions, State Department certification that the governments are taking “effective steps” to “create a professional, accountable civilian police force and end the role of the military in internal policing” and to “prosecute and punish in civilian courts members of security forces who violate human rights.”]

        “Full implementation of the Leahy Law…” [which prohibits the departments of State and Defense from providing support to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity.]

        “A detailed description of how the Department of State is currently implementing these statutes [i.e., the conditioning of security assistance under Leahy Law and existing appropriations legislation], including what metrics the Department is using to assess whether the Honduran government has adequately addressed human rights abuses.” [The State Department hasn’t revealed the methodology it employs to enforce Leahy Law provisions or SFOPS appropriations human rights conditions on aid.]

        “Urge the Honduran government to implement serious and concrete measures to address military and police abuses, and to halt the continued involvement of the military in domestic law enforcement.” [As mentioned above, these are among the aid conditionalities that the Honduran government would need to meet under the pending FY2016 appropriations legislation. There is little indication that the Honduran government is interested in implementing these measures. In early 2014, the ruling National Party eliminated a widely respected police reform commission and ignored its recommendations for cleaning up the country’s notoriously corrupt police. Under growing pressure from Congress and human rights groups, the government recently announced a series of reforms to the police – designed in tandem with U.S. advisors – that appear to amount to little more than an administrative reorganization. Given that Honduran officials still fail to acknowledge abuses by security forces, there is deep skepticism surrounding the announcement. Not to mention that there is no sign that the government is scaling back its militarization efforts].

        “Finally, we request a full itemized report on the use of funds allocated for U.S. security assistance to Honduras in the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations law for FY2015 and for upcoming FY2106 appropriations legislation.” [Effective independent scrutiny of how U.S. security assistance is used is extremely difficult given the total lack of transparency surrounding the disbursement process. Tens of millions of dollars in security assistance have been funneled to Honduras through the State Department’s notoriously opaque Central America Regional Security Initiative.   As yet there is no public record of where and how the funds have been used, nor are there any clear metrics available on what sort of impact CARSI assistance has had].

Though largely ignored by the U.S. press (with the exception of one article in an inside-the-Beltway outlet and articles in the Spanish-language press), the Johnson/Schakowsky letter has received massive media attention in Honduras. The question is, will Secretary of State John Kerry pay attention to this new appeal from Congress?

Members of Congress have once again called on the Obama administration to stop funding Honduras’ security forces. Alarmed at the rampant militarization of policing activities throughout the country and a rash of recent reports of human rights abuses involving Honduran security forces, 21 House Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry on August 19 expressing their concern and making a series of specific requests, including “the suspension and re-evaluation of further training and support for Honduran police and military units until the Honduran government adequately addresses human rights abuses.” 

For several years now U.S. legislators have been urging the administration to either suspend or overhaul its security assistance programs in Honduras. Back in March of 2012, 94 Democrats asked then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to suspend military and police assistance, noting “credible allegations of widespread, serious allegations of human rights abuses attributed to [Honduran] security forces” and the impunity surrounding targeted attacks against “human rights defenders, journalists, community leaders and opposition activists.” Two years later, 108 House Democrats sent a letter to Kerry expressing concern over the accelerated militarization of domestic law enforcement under current president Juan Orlando Hernández and calling for the State Department to review its security programs in Honduras. Similar letters have appeared in the U.S. Senate, with, for instance, 21 senators questioning Honduran government compliance with human rights conditions attached to U.S. security assistance.

The Congressional letter of August 19 – led by Representatives Hank Johnson (a leading opponent of militarized law enforcement in the U.S.) and Jan Schakowsky (who has led several previous letters regarding Honduras’ appalling human rights situation) – describes the steady militarization of policing that has taken place in Honduras since 2010: The massive deployment of army units to police Honduran streets, followed by the creation of a 3000-strong military police force under a military line of command and a new “super-ministry” of Security combining civilian and military security institutions under the direction of a recently retired general.

This militarization trend is troubling enough in a country that only emerged from military rule in the 1980s and was subjected to a military coup d’état in June of 2009, but there is also abundant documented evidence of widespread abuses perpetrated by military personnel and militarized police, some of which is described in the letter:

Over the last few months, military police agents have reportedly threatened and harassed journalists, community leaders, and members of the indigenous organization COPINH; forcibly evicted small farmers without a warrant; raided the home of a student leader involved in recent protests; and shot and killed an unarmed woman selling mangos, among other alleged crimes. As reported by Al-Jazeera, Defensores en Linea and Today Media Network, these forces have also allegedly conducted raids against the homes of opposition activists, and participated in the killing of land-rights activists and peaceful demonstrators.

The U.S. government’s response to these alarming developments has been to request more security assistance for Honduras, in particular through an increase in funding for the opaque Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). There’s no indication that the administration is concerned about Honduras’ militarization or that it is seeking to leverage U.S. security assistance to try to reverse the trend. On the contrary, it has been providing direct support to militarization efforts, as the Johnson/Schakowsky letter notes:

We are concerned about Honduran media reports that in mid-May of this year, a team of 300 U.S. military and civilian personnel, including Marines and the FBI, conducted “rapid response” training with 500 [agents from] FUSINA [a militarized security task force combining personnel from police, military, intelligence and judicial agencies], using U.S. helicopters and planes, despite allegations regarding the agency’s repeated involvement in human-rights violations.

Similarly, U.S. green beret special forces have been training a militarized Honduran police unit called the TIGRES [which stands for Intelligence Troop and Special Security Response Groups], “instilling fundamental principles of close quarters battle and knowing how to execute them amidst the chaos that is combat”, according to a U.S. Army article published in March. Though touted as an exemplary, elite force, nearly two dozen TIGRES agents, trained and vetted by the U.S. government, were caught stealing over $1.3 million in drug money following a counter-narcotics operation late last year.

In addition to asking for security assistance to Honduras to be put on hold, the Johnson/Schakowsky letter makes a series of detailed requests which focus on getting the State Department to genuinely implement human rights safeguards required by law and to increase transparency around security aid programs in Honduras.

The letter asks for:

        “The State Department’s strict evaluation of U.S. support and training for the Honduran police and military in accordance with human rights conditions placed in the FY2015 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Act.” [A Senate Appropriations Committee report that accompanies the FY2015 SFOPS Act specifies that 50% of security assistance allocated to Honduras under International Narcotic Control and Law Enforcement and Foreign Military Funding headings be withheld pending State Department certification of Honduran government compliance with six human rights and rule of law conditions that include the investigation and prosecution of “army and police personnel who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights.” In the past, the State Department has generally certified the Honduran government as compliant with conditions set by the Committee, despite the strong misgivings expressed by 21 U.S. senators (i.e., 1/5th of the Senate). It’s worth noting that the Committee report attached to pending FY2016 appropriations legislation has conditioned 75% of all assistance under State and Foreign Operations appropriations to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and includes, among its new set of conditions, State Department certification that the governments are taking “effective steps” to “create a professional, accountable civilian police force and end the role of the military in internal policing” and to “prosecute and punish in civilian courts members of security forces who violate human rights.”]

        “Full implementation of the Leahy Law…” [which prohibits the departments of State and Defense from providing support to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity.]

        “A detailed description of how the Department of State is currently implementing these statutes [i.e., the conditioning of security assistance under Leahy Law and existing appropriations legislation], including what metrics the Department is using to assess whether the Honduran government has adequately addressed human rights abuses.” [The State Department hasn’t revealed the methodology it employs to enforce Leahy Law provisions or SFOPS appropriations human rights conditions on aid.]

        “Urge the Honduran government to implement serious and concrete measures to address military and police abuses, and to halt the continued involvement of the military in domestic law enforcement.” [As mentioned above, these are among the aid conditionalities that the Honduran government would need to meet under the pending FY2016 appropriations legislation. There is little indication that the Honduran government is interested in implementing these measures. In early 2014, the ruling National Party eliminated a widely respected police reform commission and ignored its recommendations for cleaning up the country’s notoriously corrupt police. Under growing pressure from Congress and human rights groups, the government recently announced a series of reforms to the police – designed in tandem with U.S. advisors – that appear to amount to little more than an administrative reorganization. Given that Honduran officials still fail to acknowledge abuses by security forces, there is deep skepticism surrounding the announcement. Not to mention that there is no sign that the government is scaling back its militarization efforts].

        “Finally, we request a full itemized report on the use of funds allocated for U.S. security assistance to Honduras in the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations law for FY2015 and for upcoming FY2106 appropriations legislation.” [Effective independent scrutiny of how U.S. security assistance is used is extremely difficult given the total lack of transparency surrounding the disbursement process. Tens of millions of dollars in security assistance have been funneled to Honduras through the State Department’s notoriously opaque Central America Regional Security Initiative.   As yet there is no public record of where and how the funds have been used, nor are there any clear metrics available on what sort of impact CARSI assistance has had].

Though largely ignored by the U.S. press (with the exception of one article in an inside-the-Beltway outlet and articles in the Spanish-language press), the Johnson/Schakowsky letter has received massive media attention in Honduras. The question is, will Secretary of State John Kerry pay attention to this new appeal from Congress?

A pusher cares less for the health of an addict than squeezing every last penny from the customer. Perhaps this is more so when the victim tries to manage the addiction. Likewise, creditors hardly have the best interests of debtors at heart. Thus, we ought to cast a suspicious eye when creditors make suggestions regarding fiscal policy for their debtors.

In 2002, in the face of a nearly four-year depression and increased borrowing to maintain an overvalued peso, Argentina devalued and defaulted on external debt. The economy recovered rapidly. To come out of default Argentina negotiated in 2005 and again in 2010 haircut deals with the majority of foreign creditors, but a small minority of holdouts continue to prevent Argentina from borrowing internationally. Unable to roll over its debts, Argentina has recently drawn down on foreign reserves in order to make principal payments. Ideally, this is neither better nor worse an option than borrowing. However there is a risk that the drawdown of foreign reserves can feed speculation against the peso, thereby contributing to a black market premium and inflation.

Absent sufficient reserves, Argentina must find a way to borrow or again reduce its debt service. One obvious way forward is for creditors to once again accept new international borrowing from Argentina. This would allow Argentina to roll over its current debt, although it may face a higher interest rate than implied by its current servicing of debt. However, creditors have made an alternative suggestion. According to Moody’s Investors Service, “For Argentina to regain full access to capital markets, its next government will need to reach an agreement with the holdout creditors that have not accepted a restructuring agreement.”

In other words, by bargaining further with its creditors Argentina must now pay for the mere option of continuing to service its debt. With Argentina’s dwindling capacity to pay out of reserves, Moody’s is insisting that Argentina would be welcomed back into credit markets if only it promised to borrow more. Such is the way of the debt pusher—inflicting pain upon anyone who struggles from addiction in the hopes that the struggle is just too great and the victim relapses with greater intensity.

The only question is how deep into debt Argentina is willing to go. This is particularly important question if access to credit does not stop the need to continue draining reserves.

To see how this might work, consider a stylized example of a country initially accumulating foreign reserves of $5 per year. Then, the country borrows $100 at 10 percent interest for 20 years. After 10 years, it starts paying only 5 percent interest and goes into arrears for the rest. After 20 years, the country would like to tap $100 of reserves to pay off the debt. Though it would remain $80 in arrears, it would be debt free and again accumulating reserves. Still, this path is available only if the country has $100 of reserves to use.

Alternatively, the country might continue to bargain after 20 years. In return for paying off one-quarter of its arrears, the other three-quarters is forgiven and it is permitted to borrow at 7 percent. After another decade, it will have $120 of debt; with $8.40 annual debt service it continues to drain reserves.

It is not clear that concessions will help Argentina better manage its reserves, rather than increase its dependence on foreign creditors.

A pusher cares less for the health of an addict than squeezing every last penny from the customer. Perhaps this is more so when the victim tries to manage the addiction. Likewise, creditors hardly have the best interests of debtors at heart. Thus, we ought to cast a suspicious eye when creditors make suggestions regarding fiscal policy for their debtors.

In 2002, in the face of a nearly four-year depression and increased borrowing to maintain an overvalued peso, Argentina devalued and defaulted on external debt. The economy recovered rapidly. To come out of default Argentina negotiated in 2005 and again in 2010 haircut deals with the majority of foreign creditors, but a small minority of holdouts continue to prevent Argentina from borrowing internationally. Unable to roll over its debts, Argentina has recently drawn down on foreign reserves in order to make principal payments. Ideally, this is neither better nor worse an option than borrowing. However there is a risk that the drawdown of foreign reserves can feed speculation against the peso, thereby contributing to a black market premium and inflation.

Absent sufficient reserves, Argentina must find a way to borrow or again reduce its debt service. One obvious way forward is for creditors to once again accept new international borrowing from Argentina. This would allow Argentina to roll over its current debt, although it may face a higher interest rate than implied by its current servicing of debt. However, creditors have made an alternative suggestion. According to Moody’s Investors Service, “For Argentina to regain full access to capital markets, its next government will need to reach an agreement with the holdout creditors that have not accepted a restructuring agreement.”

In other words, by bargaining further with its creditors Argentina must now pay for the mere option of continuing to service its debt. With Argentina’s dwindling capacity to pay out of reserves, Moody’s is insisting that Argentina would be welcomed back into credit markets if only it promised to borrow more. Such is the way of the debt pusher—inflicting pain upon anyone who struggles from addiction in the hopes that the struggle is just too great and the victim relapses with greater intensity.

The only question is how deep into debt Argentina is willing to go. This is particularly important question if access to credit does not stop the need to continue draining reserves.

To see how this might work, consider a stylized example of a country initially accumulating foreign reserves of $5 per year. Then, the country borrows $100 at 10 percent interest for 20 years. After 10 years, it starts paying only 5 percent interest and goes into arrears for the rest. After 20 years, the country would like to tap $100 of reserves to pay off the debt. Though it would remain $80 in arrears, it would be debt free and again accumulating reserves. Still, this path is available only if the country has $100 of reserves to use.

Alternatively, the country might continue to bargain after 20 years. In return for paying off one-quarter of its arrears, the other three-quarters is forgiven and it is permitted to borrow at 7 percent. After another decade, it will have $120 of debt; with $8.40 annual debt service it continues to drain reserves.

It is not clear that concessions will help Argentina better manage its reserves, rather than increase its dependence on foreign creditors.

On October 20, 2010, just a few days before Dilma Rousseff was reelected to serve a second term as president of Brazil, newscasts focused on reports that opposing candidate José Serra had interrupted his campaign to undergo medical examination after supposedly being attacked by members of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) during a rally in Rio de Janeiro. In much of the major media and on social networks, it was claimed that the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) candidate had been hit by a heavy object. In fact, as documented by at least five TV cameras, Serra had been hit by a harmless ball of crumpled paper.

Earlier this year, on July 30, an attack at the Lula Institute in Sao Paulo (named for former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also from the PT) involving a homemade explosive was reported as an “incident” of no major consequence. Merval Pereira, a columnist for O Globo, denounced the attempt by petistas (members or supporters of the PT) and Lula’s supporters to transform the event into a “terrorist act,” pointing out that “it only made a small hole in the door.” Ricardo Noblat, also a columnist at O Globo, raised the question of whether the throwing of the explosive wasn’t a “setup to allow Lula to pose as a victim.” Reinaldo Azevedo, in turn, on his blog for Veja magazine – one of Brazil’s most influential publications — accused petistas of wanting to exploit the bomb attack in order to crack down on opposition demonstrations scheduled for August 16 (no crackdown of any kind occurred).

Unfortunately, these are not isolated examples of bias in the Brazilian news media. Brazil’s large media outlets present themselves as bulwarks of democracy when in reality they work to guarantee that a society of exclusion and elitism remains in place. O Globo, for example, was one of the earliest supporters of the military coup d’état in Brazil, and it was only in August 2013 that a public retraction from the newspaper= recognized that “the editorial support for the 1964 coup was an error.”

Until the PT won the presidency, the historic social exclusion of certain sectors of the population had never been countered with efficient public policies. Years of per capita income stagnation, neoliberal economic policies and high income concentration exacerbated a large social gap, as shown by high levels of poverty and illiteracy. The result was that a significant portion of the population had no access to social rights guaranteed under the Constitution (healthcare, education, and complete political participation). The PT’s national project was based on social inclusion and the redistribution of income for millions of people who previously had not had the opportunity to fully exercise their citizenship. From the moment the PT began to gain national relevance in Brazilian politics in the 1980s, the country’s traditional media, led by a few families, made one of its main objectives preventing that project from fully developing.

The popularity of the Lula government, and the eventual failure of the opposition to present an acceptable alternative for the majority of the population, opened the way for the media to become one of the political actors with the greatest relevance on the national scene. Recently, Dilma Rousseff’s narrow victory in the 2014 presidential elections rekindled the hopes of Brazil’s big media outlets.

There is an ongoing political crisis in Brazil, and the media has been playing a central role both in the consolidation and the deepening of this crisis. Exacerbating political tensions, the traditional press seeks to consolidate a narrative in public opinion where the country is going through a deep institutional and economic crisis that would justify, in the end, the premature end of Dilma Rousseff’s mandate, the impossibility of a petista succession, and the annihilation of the current social project.

Corruption scandals and economic deceleration are the most exploited topics, yet personal attacks against President Dilma, former President Lula and other party leaders are easily found in editorials and op-ed sections. A breakdown of the coalition political model adopted during the PT years, the increasing hostility of the main allied party of the government—PMDB—and the subversive impulse of the PSDB, the main opposition party, ignite passions, and feed further media distortions.

The coverage given to Operation Carwash (Operação Lava Jato), the name given to the investigation conducted by the Federal Police and the Federal Public Ministry that uncovered a large money laundering and funneling scheme involving the state oil company, Petrobras, and various enterprises and politicians, is perhaps one of the best examples of Brazilian media bias. Starting in March 2014, daily newscasts around the country focused on investigations into alleged involvement of PT politicians in the scandal – at the same time minimizing or even omitting involvement of politicians from the PSDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), the Progressive Party (PP) and other parties.

O Estado de S. Paulo, a prominent newspaper, went so far as to change a headline on its site to shift focus from the national president of the PSDB, Aécio Neves’s, involvement in the siphoning off of resources from the Furnas Hydroelectric Project, as uncovered in the Carwash investigation. The headline accompanying the article read: “In Carwash, [Albert Youssef, a money changer and one of the principal operators of the scheme] says Aécio received money funneled away from Furnas,” but was later transformed into “[Chief prosecutor Rodrigo] Janot asks to table [that is, remove from consideration] the investigation against Aécio, cited by Youssef.” A February 6, 2015 editorial from the same newspaper assures that the “assault on Petrobras” results from “the effects of a cold and boldly elaborated strategy of consolidation of the political hegemony” of the Workers’ Party.

Despite whistleblowers having stated a day earlier that the siphoning off of money from the oil company went back to at least 1997—that is, when Fernando Henrique Cardoso (PSDB) was still president—O Estado de S. Paulo never retracted the accusation in its editorial, and repeatedly distorted the facts to convince its readers that the PT is responsible for the “invention” of corruption in Brazil.

O Globo’s editorial line follows a similar approach. A piece published on March 12, 2015 describes “the corruption scheme created in the country’s largest state company with the blessing of lulopetismo, in conjunction with allies from the PMDB and the PP,” allegedly revealed through the deposition of a former manager of the oil company, Pedro Barroso before a congressional investigating commission on Petrobras in the Chamber of Deputies. Even though the newspaper recognizes that there was embezzlement at the state company during various governments, including the tucano (PSDB) governments, the editorial proclaims that this will not “detract from lulopetismo being the first in making a wide and well-organized assault upon the state company” – despite the fact that among the approximately 50 politicians subpoenaed so far, only eight are petistas, while 31 are cadres of the PP (the PP’s involvement was described in Youseff’s depositions).

The arrest of José Dirceu added fuel to the fire. A historic cadre of the PT, Dirceu was arrested based on declarations from others arrested under Operation Carwash who cut deals with authorities to provide information in exchange for reduced sentences. Proof of his involvement is yet to be presented. His arrest occurred the morning of August 3, 2015, and was widely covered on the front pages of newspapers, with special mentions during newscasts, and on news sites, and they were unanimous in their judgment: The Federal Police had finally gotten to the heart of corruption in Petrobras. More importantly, they will eventually get Lula, the stories insinuated.

O Globo’s front page on August 4, 2015 highlighted a cartoon by Chico Caruso in which José Dirceu is seen behind bars whispering into a smartphone, with a picture of Lula stamped on it, the title of a famous Brazilian song by Rita Lee, “Now, only you are missing.” Merval Pereira, a columnist at O Globoasked, the same day, if the money funneling scheme’s “chain of command stopped with Dirceu.” While recalling that the political scenario today differs from that in which previous scandals took place, Merval affirmed that “it is already possible to ask and discuss whether Lula will be arrested.”

Igor Gielow, who writes for Folha de S. Paulo, makes it very clear that José Dirceu’s arrest once again puts the PT under the spotlight of the investigation (and of the media), exactly at a moment when the focus of the Petrobras scandal seemed to be moving toward the involvement of leaders of the PMDB, like Eduardo Cunha and Renan Calheiros, the presidents of the Senate and of the Chamber of Deputies, respectively.

During the little more than 500 days that Operation Carwash has been going on, there has not been one day in which newspapers have not been filled with stories related to the case. The most careful reader should question why other investigations receive little or no attention from the major media. Take for example, the so-called “mensalão tucano.” Considered the embryo of the “mensalão petista” (a bribe scheme for buying political support in Congress for which José Dirceu and José Genoíno, another important petista cadre, were jailed in 2012), it consisted of channeling more than US$ 3.9 million from the coffers of public companies in Minas Gerais in order to finance the failed campaign of then state governor Eduardo Azeredo, in 1998.

Despite investigations into the case having begun more than ten years ago, and the judicial process more than five years ago, the mensalão tucano has not led to anyone being sentenced, and some of the accused, such as Aécio Neves and Antonio Anastasia (both occupying seats in the Senate), still await judgment while retaining their high-level positions —far from the media’s scrutiny.

The media war on the government and on the petista national plan has been bearing fruit. A poll taken by Ibope in May of this year shows that 48 percent of those interviewed are pessimistic about the country’s future. Yet the poll also revealed information that went widely unreported: 41 percent of those interviewed said they believe the media’s portrayal of the country’s economic situation is overly negative. Only 28 percent disagreed with that sentiment.

Perhaps this is a sign that the Brazilian public is wising up to the systematic bias found in their country’s major media.

Aline Cristiane Piva is a political analyst at the Brazil-based communications group Entrelinhas, and a specialist in international relations at the University of Brasília and in international law at the University of Londrina.

On October 20, 2010, just a few days before Dilma Rousseff was reelected to serve a second term as president of Brazil, newscasts focused on reports that opposing candidate José Serra had interrupted his campaign to undergo medical examination after supposedly being attacked by members of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) during a rally in Rio de Janeiro. In much of the major media and on social networks, it was claimed that the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) candidate had been hit by a heavy object. In fact, as documented by at least five TV cameras, Serra had been hit by a harmless ball of crumpled paper.

Earlier this year, on July 30, an attack at the Lula Institute in Sao Paulo (named for former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also from the PT) involving a homemade explosive was reported as an “incident” of no major consequence. Merval Pereira, a columnist for O Globo, denounced the attempt by petistas (members or supporters of the PT) and Lula’s supporters to transform the event into a “terrorist act,” pointing out that “it only made a small hole in the door.” Ricardo Noblat, also a columnist at O Globo, raised the question of whether the throwing of the explosive wasn’t a “setup to allow Lula to pose as a victim.” Reinaldo Azevedo, in turn, on his blog for Veja magazine – one of Brazil’s most influential publications — accused petistas of wanting to exploit the bomb attack in order to crack down on opposition demonstrations scheduled for August 16 (no crackdown of any kind occurred).

Unfortunately, these are not isolated examples of bias in the Brazilian news media. Brazil’s large media outlets present themselves as bulwarks of democracy when in reality they work to guarantee that a society of exclusion and elitism remains in place. O Globo, for example, was one of the earliest supporters of the military coup d’état in Brazil, and it was only in August 2013 that a public retraction from the newspaper= recognized that “the editorial support for the 1964 coup was an error.”

Until the PT won the presidency, the historic social exclusion of certain sectors of the population had never been countered with efficient public policies. Years of per capita income stagnation, neoliberal economic policies and high income concentration exacerbated a large social gap, as shown by high levels of poverty and illiteracy. The result was that a significant portion of the population had no access to social rights guaranteed under the Constitution (healthcare, education, and complete political participation). The PT’s national project was based on social inclusion and the redistribution of income for millions of people who previously had not had the opportunity to fully exercise their citizenship. From the moment the PT began to gain national relevance in Brazilian politics in the 1980s, the country’s traditional media, led by a few families, made one of its main objectives preventing that project from fully developing.

The popularity of the Lula government, and the eventual failure of the opposition to present an acceptable alternative for the majority of the population, opened the way for the media to become one of the political actors with the greatest relevance on the national scene. Recently, Dilma Rousseff’s narrow victory in the 2014 presidential elections rekindled the hopes of Brazil’s big media outlets.

There is an ongoing political crisis in Brazil, and the media has been playing a central role both in the consolidation and the deepening of this crisis. Exacerbating political tensions, the traditional press seeks to consolidate a narrative in public opinion where the country is going through a deep institutional and economic crisis that would justify, in the end, the premature end of Dilma Rousseff’s mandate, the impossibility of a petista succession, and the annihilation of the current social project.

Corruption scandals and economic deceleration are the most exploited topics, yet personal attacks against President Dilma, former President Lula and other party leaders are easily found in editorials and op-ed sections. A breakdown of the coalition political model adopted during the PT years, the increasing hostility of the main allied party of the government—PMDB—and the subversive impulse of the PSDB, the main opposition party, ignite passions, and feed further media distortions.

The coverage given to Operation Carwash (Operação Lava Jato), the name given to the investigation conducted by the Federal Police and the Federal Public Ministry that uncovered a large money laundering and funneling scheme involving the state oil company, Petrobras, and various enterprises and politicians, is perhaps one of the best examples of Brazilian media bias. Starting in March 2014, daily newscasts around the country focused on investigations into alleged involvement of PT politicians in the scandal – at the same time minimizing or even omitting involvement of politicians from the PSDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), the Progressive Party (PP) and other parties.

O Estado de S. Paulo, a prominent newspaper, went so far as to change a headline on its site to shift focus from the national president of the PSDB, Aécio Neves’s, involvement in the siphoning off of resources from the Furnas Hydroelectric Project, as uncovered in the Carwash investigation. The headline accompanying the article read: “In Carwash, [Albert Youssef, a money changer and one of the principal operators of the scheme] says Aécio received money funneled away from Furnas,” but was later transformed into “[Chief prosecutor Rodrigo] Janot asks to table [that is, remove from consideration] the investigation against Aécio, cited by Youssef.” A February 6, 2015 editorial from the same newspaper assures that the “assault on Petrobras” results from “the effects of a cold and boldly elaborated strategy of consolidation of the political hegemony” of the Workers’ Party.

Despite whistleblowers having stated a day earlier that the siphoning off of money from the oil company went back to at least 1997—that is, when Fernando Henrique Cardoso (PSDB) was still president—O Estado de S. Paulo never retracted the accusation in its editorial, and repeatedly distorted the facts to convince its readers that the PT is responsible for the “invention” of corruption in Brazil.

O Globo’s editorial line follows a similar approach. A piece published on March 12, 2015 describes “the corruption scheme created in the country’s largest state company with the blessing of lulopetismo, in conjunction with allies from the PMDB and the PP,” allegedly revealed through the deposition of a former manager of the oil company, Pedro Barroso before a congressional investigating commission on Petrobras in the Chamber of Deputies. Even though the newspaper recognizes that there was embezzlement at the state company during various governments, including the tucano (PSDB) governments, the editorial proclaims that this will not “detract from lulopetismo being the first in making a wide and well-organized assault upon the state company” – despite the fact that among the approximately 50 politicians subpoenaed so far, only eight are petistas, while 31 are cadres of the PP (the PP’s involvement was described in Youseff’s depositions).

The arrest of José Dirceu added fuel to the fire. A historic cadre of the PT, Dirceu was arrested based on declarations from others arrested under Operation Carwash who cut deals with authorities to provide information in exchange for reduced sentences. Proof of his involvement is yet to be presented. His arrest occurred the morning of August 3, 2015, and was widely covered on the front pages of newspapers, with special mentions during newscasts, and on news sites, and they were unanimous in their judgment: The Federal Police had finally gotten to the heart of corruption in Petrobras. More importantly, they will eventually get Lula, the stories insinuated.

O Globo’s front page on August 4, 2015 highlighted a cartoon by Chico Caruso in which José Dirceu is seen behind bars whispering into a smartphone, with a picture of Lula stamped on it, the title of a famous Brazilian song by Rita Lee, “Now, only you are missing.” Merval Pereira, a columnist at O Globoasked, the same day, if the money funneling scheme’s “chain of command stopped with Dirceu.” While recalling that the political scenario today differs from that in which previous scandals took place, Merval affirmed that “it is already possible to ask and discuss whether Lula will be arrested.”

Igor Gielow, who writes for Folha de S. Paulo, makes it very clear that José Dirceu’s arrest once again puts the PT under the spotlight of the investigation (and of the media), exactly at a moment when the focus of the Petrobras scandal seemed to be moving toward the involvement of leaders of the PMDB, like Eduardo Cunha and Renan Calheiros, the presidents of the Senate and of the Chamber of Deputies, respectively.

During the little more than 500 days that Operation Carwash has been going on, there has not been one day in which newspapers have not been filled with stories related to the case. The most careful reader should question why other investigations receive little or no attention from the major media. Take for example, the so-called “mensalão tucano.” Considered the embryo of the “mensalão petista” (a bribe scheme for buying political support in Congress for which José Dirceu and José Genoíno, another important petista cadre, were jailed in 2012), it consisted of channeling more than US$ 3.9 million from the coffers of public companies in Minas Gerais in order to finance the failed campaign of then state governor Eduardo Azeredo, in 1998.

Despite investigations into the case having begun more than ten years ago, and the judicial process more than five years ago, the mensalão tucano has not led to anyone being sentenced, and some of the accused, such as Aécio Neves and Antonio Anastasia (both occupying seats in the Senate), still await judgment while retaining their high-level positions —far from the media’s scrutiny.

The media war on the government and on the petista national plan has been bearing fruit. A poll taken by Ibope in May of this year shows that 48 percent of those interviewed are pessimistic about the country’s future. Yet the poll also revealed information that went widely unreported: 41 percent of those interviewed said they believe the media’s portrayal of the country’s economic situation is overly negative. Only 28 percent disagreed with that sentiment.

Perhaps this is a sign that the Brazilian public is wising up to the systematic bias found in their country’s major media.

Aline Cristiane Piva is a political analyst at the Brazil-based communications group Entrelinhas, and a specialist in international relations at the University of Brasília and in international law at the University of Londrina.

Newly released emails reaffirm that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worked to help Honduras’ 2009 military coup succeed. Lee Fang writes for The Intercept:

The Hillary Clinton emails released last week include some telling exchanges about the June 2009 military coup that toppled democratically elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, a leftist who was seen as a threat by the Honduran establishment and U.S. business interests.

One of the most damning new emails, cited by Fang, is penned by veteran diplomat Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the time (and now Counselor of the Department). Shannon’s email makes clear something also detailed in the scores of State Department cables made available by WikiLeaks that we examined and analyzed for the forthcoming book, “The WikiLeaks Files”: Although the U.S. State Department claims to be a neutral observer of elections around the world, the U.S. government invariably has candidates and parties that it wants to win, often – if not routinely – channeling support to these candidates and parties, whether the support be political, material or otherwise.

Here’s then State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack in 2006, just prior to Nicaragua’s presidential elections, in a cable we cite in the book:

We do not … we are not trying to shade opinion or to try to take a position. This is a democratic election. If you look around the globe, we do not take positions. We do not try to influence these elections.

Here’s then Assistant Secretary Shannon in an email [PDF] to Clinton just after the results of Honduras’ November 2009 election were announced:

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.

Finally, this Administration, which worked so hard to manage and resolve this crisis, should be the one who defines the results and perceptions of today’s vote, and not our critics on the Hill (who had no clear pathway to elections) or our adversaries in the region (who never wanted this day to happen).

His statement is all the more blatant considering that by “Brazil and others who would not recognize the election” Shannon may well have meant most of Latin America, since an overwhelming majority of regional heads of state deemed the elections illegitimate.

Of course McCormack’s statement in 2006 was just as false as State official statements ahead of the November 29, 2009 election in Honduras that supported Zelaya’s restitution as president. In the book, we detail various ways in which McCormack’s statement was belied at the time by U.S. activities in Nicaragua supporting candidates running against Sandinista candidate Daniel Ortega:

Encourag[ing] support of democratic candidates by encouraging funds to flow in the right direction; promoting defections of salvageable individuals from the PLC camp; granting [Eduardo Montealegre of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance] high-profile meetings in the United States; bringing internationally recognized speakers to discuss successful reform campaigns; and countering direct partisan support to the FSLN from external forces …

… among other methods, including the use of “rap sheets” to depict Ortega and other candidates the U.S. considered unacceptable in an unsavory light. Still, Shannon’s frank suggestions on framing the consolidation of the coup with the victory of the National Party and rejection of the Liberal Party (to which ousted president Manuel Zelaya then belonged) is revelatory in part because of Shannon’s reputation as one of the U.S.’ most effective diplomats in Latin America.

The emails’ release is especially timely, as Shannon is currently traveling to Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The Obama administration has been conspicuously silent about the corruption scandals rocking Honduras, with tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets each week calling for President Juan Orlando Hernandez (also of the National Party) to step down. Shannon’s visit to Honduras will send a strong message of support to a president whose party may well have diverted funds from the national health system in order to support his campaign, who oversaw the “technical coup” that removed Supreme Court justices opposed to legislation that Hernandez championed, and who has responded to an ongoing human rights crisis – including routine murders of journalists and the targeting of minoritieswith more military police.

Newly released emails reaffirm that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worked to help Honduras’ 2009 military coup succeed. Lee Fang writes for The Intercept:

The Hillary Clinton emails released last week include some telling exchanges about the June 2009 military coup that toppled democratically elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, a leftist who was seen as a threat by the Honduran establishment and U.S. business interests.

One of the most damning new emails, cited by Fang, is penned by veteran diplomat Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the time (and now Counselor of the Department). Shannon’s email makes clear something also detailed in the scores of State Department cables made available by WikiLeaks that we examined and analyzed for the forthcoming book, “The WikiLeaks Files”: Although the U.S. State Department claims to be a neutral observer of elections around the world, the U.S. government invariably has candidates and parties that it wants to win, often – if not routinely – channeling support to these candidates and parties, whether the support be political, material or otherwise.

Here’s then State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack in 2006, just prior to Nicaragua’s presidential elections, in a cable we cite in the book:

We do not … we are not trying to shade opinion or to try to take a position. This is a democratic election. If you look around the globe, we do not take positions. We do not try to influence these elections.

Here’s then Assistant Secretary Shannon in an email [PDF] to Clinton just after the results of Honduras’ November 2009 election were announced:

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.

Finally, this Administration, which worked so hard to manage and resolve this crisis, should be the one who defines the results and perceptions of today’s vote, and not our critics on the Hill (who had no clear pathway to elections) or our adversaries in the region (who never wanted this day to happen).

His statement is all the more blatant considering that by “Brazil and others who would not recognize the election” Shannon may well have meant most of Latin America, since an overwhelming majority of regional heads of state deemed the elections illegitimate.

Of course McCormack’s statement in 2006 was just as false as State official statements ahead of the November 29, 2009 election in Honduras that supported Zelaya’s restitution as president. In the book, we detail various ways in which McCormack’s statement was belied at the time by U.S. activities in Nicaragua supporting candidates running against Sandinista candidate Daniel Ortega:

Encourag[ing] support of democratic candidates by encouraging funds to flow in the right direction; promoting defections of salvageable individuals from the PLC camp; granting [Eduardo Montealegre of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance] high-profile meetings in the United States; bringing internationally recognized speakers to discuss successful reform campaigns; and countering direct partisan support to the FSLN from external forces …

… among other methods, including the use of “rap sheets” to depict Ortega and other candidates the U.S. considered unacceptable in an unsavory light. Still, Shannon’s frank suggestions on framing the consolidation of the coup with the victory of the National Party and rejection of the Liberal Party (to which ousted president Manuel Zelaya then belonged) is revelatory in part because of Shannon’s reputation as one of the U.S.’ most effective diplomats in Latin America.

The emails’ release is especially timely, as Shannon is currently traveling to Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The Obama administration has been conspicuously silent about the corruption scandals rocking Honduras, with tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets each week calling for President Juan Orlando Hernandez (also of the National Party) to step down. Shannon’s visit to Honduras will send a strong message of support to a president whose party may well have diverted funds from the national health system in order to support his campaign, who oversaw the “technical coup” that removed Supreme Court justices opposed to legislation that Hernandez championed, and who has responded to an ongoing human rights crisis – including routine murders of journalists and the targeting of minoritieswith more military police.

On Sunday, October 4, 1998, as international bankers, investors, finance ministers and officials from the leading multilateral development banks met in Washington for the annual World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings, many eyes were looking south, to Brazil.

Late in the afternoon, when Brazil’s finance minister broke the news that Fernando Henrique Cardoso had narrowly won Brazil’s election in the first round, “the room broke into loud applause,” according to Bob Fernandez reporting for Knight Ridder. “Cardoso is an International Monetary Fund favorite,” Fernandez explained.

Officials had been scrambling for weeks to put together an international bailout package for Brazil in response to the Asian Financial Crisis, which threatened to spread to other emerging markets, including those in South America. But the negotiations were held behind closed doors. With key elections on the horizon in Brazil, Cardoso, the incumbent and leading candidate, went to great lengths to distance himself from the IMF package. The New York Times reported on October 1: “Among ordinary Brazilians, the I.M.F. is associated, if not faulted, for a punishing recession through the 1980’s.”

On October 2, Reuters reported that Cardoso “has repeatedly denied that he will announce austerity measures immediately after the polls close.” Even after his first-round victory, Cardoso was reluctant to announce any measures before governors and state officials faced critical run-off elections later in the month, worried that an embrace of the IMF plan could hurt their chances.

Cardoso’s main opponent in the presidential race was Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party, who would later go on to win the presidency in 2002, and again in 2006. Lula voiced strong criticism of any potential deal with the IMF, saying that it would “tighten one more knot on the neck around Brazilians.” Lula would go on to end Brazil’s borrowing relationship with the Fund in 2005 when he was president. But the U.S. and other leading players in the global financial system were seen as heavily supportive of Cardoso in ‘98. The New York Times reported in late September (emphasis added):

The proposed package would be openly negotiated only after the presidential election in Brazil next Sunday, and only if — as expected — Mr. Cardoso is re-elected. Nevertheless, a senior Clinton Administration official acknowledged on Friday that active discussions are already in progress with the Brazilians, the I.M.F., other governments and private lenders.

If Lula were elected, the IMF support would never materialize. Peter Fritsch of the Wall Street Journalwrote in early October that it wasn’t so much the money that Brazil needed, but a “stamp of approval.” This is backed up in internal documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. A briefing on an October 3, 1998 meeting with the G-7 finance ministers, just one day before the presidential election, notes that any Brazil package “needs G-7 backing to go in alongside the IMF. Not just a matter of money – also a matter of showing G-7 support and leadership in fighting contagion.” The document also notes that “Brazil has been working with the IMF” for some time on an agreement, despite the fact that Cardoso had yet to formally or publicly request such support.

Indeed, the U.S. wasn’t just interested in saving Brazil for Brazil’s sake. “The financial stability and prosperity of Brazil is of vital importance to the U.S.,” then Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said. Fernandez explained in his report for Knight Ridder:

U.S. companies and the American economy have a big stake in Cardoso’s success. About 2,000 U.S. companies have operations in Brazil, including 405 of the 500 largest U.S. firms. U.S. banks have about $27 billion at risk in Brazil, some of which could be lost if the country is forced to default or reschedule its debts.

Rubin wasn’t the only official involved in the Brazilian negotiations who would have a role, just over a decade later, in engineering the bailout of U.S. banks. Timothy Geithner was Assistant Secretary for International Affairs in the Treasury Department in 1998 while Lawrence Summers was the Deputy Secretary under Rubin.

In order to get more information about the behind-the-scenes negotiations taking place in the fall of 1998, the Center for Economic and Policy Research filed a FOIA request with the U.S. Department of the Treasury back in 2013. Unfortunately, the documents that were released just this month are subject to much censorship. Of 111 pages, 44 were withheld in full, while 26 were heavily redacted. The few documents released in full contain little of substance. But the exemption used in the redactions is just as interesting as the mysterious text behind the black markings. The vast majority of redactions were made under (b)(1), which “protects information that could reasonably be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to the national security as it pertains to foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States.”

Whatever was happening behind the scenes in the fall of ’98, the U.S. government still doesn’t want the public – including the Brazilian public – to know about it even 17 years later. 

Brazil IMF FOIA Oct 3 G7 Meeting by Center for Economic and Policy Research

IMF Treasury Brazil 1998_FOIA_1 by Center for Economic and Policy Research

IMF Treasury Brazil 1998_FOIA_2 by Center for Economic and Policy Research

On Sunday, October 4, 1998, as international bankers, investors, finance ministers and officials from the leading multilateral development banks met in Washington for the annual World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings, many eyes were looking south, to Brazil.

Late in the afternoon, when Brazil’s finance minister broke the news that Fernando Henrique Cardoso had narrowly won Brazil’s election in the first round, “the room broke into loud applause,” according to Bob Fernandez reporting for Knight Ridder. “Cardoso is an International Monetary Fund favorite,” Fernandez explained.

Officials had been scrambling for weeks to put together an international bailout package for Brazil in response to the Asian Financial Crisis, which threatened to spread to other emerging markets, including those in South America. But the negotiations were held behind closed doors. With key elections on the horizon in Brazil, Cardoso, the incumbent and leading candidate, went to great lengths to distance himself from the IMF package. The New York Times reported on October 1: “Among ordinary Brazilians, the I.M.F. is associated, if not faulted, for a punishing recession through the 1980’s.”

On October 2, Reuters reported that Cardoso “has repeatedly denied that he will announce austerity measures immediately after the polls close.” Even after his first-round victory, Cardoso was reluctant to announce any measures before governors and state officials faced critical run-off elections later in the month, worried that an embrace of the IMF plan could hurt their chances.

Cardoso’s main opponent in the presidential race was Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party, who would later go on to win the presidency in 2002, and again in 2006. Lula voiced strong criticism of any potential deal with the IMF, saying that it would “tighten one more knot on the neck around Brazilians.” Lula would go on to end Brazil’s borrowing relationship with the Fund in 2005 when he was president. But the U.S. and other leading players in the global financial system were seen as heavily supportive of Cardoso in ‘98. The New York Times reported in late September (emphasis added):

The proposed package would be openly negotiated only after the presidential election in Brazil next Sunday, and only if — as expected — Mr. Cardoso is re-elected. Nevertheless, a senior Clinton Administration official acknowledged on Friday that active discussions are already in progress with the Brazilians, the I.M.F., other governments and private lenders.

If Lula were elected, the IMF support would never materialize. Peter Fritsch of the Wall Street Journalwrote in early October that it wasn’t so much the money that Brazil needed, but a “stamp of approval.” This is backed up in internal documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. A briefing on an October 3, 1998 meeting with the G-7 finance ministers, just one day before the presidential election, notes that any Brazil package “needs G-7 backing to go in alongside the IMF. Not just a matter of money – also a matter of showing G-7 support and leadership in fighting contagion.” The document also notes that “Brazil has been working with the IMF” for some time on an agreement, despite the fact that Cardoso had yet to formally or publicly request such support.

Indeed, the U.S. wasn’t just interested in saving Brazil for Brazil’s sake. “The financial stability and prosperity of Brazil is of vital importance to the U.S.,” then Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said. Fernandez explained in his report for Knight Ridder:

U.S. companies and the American economy have a big stake in Cardoso’s success. About 2,000 U.S. companies have operations in Brazil, including 405 of the 500 largest U.S. firms. U.S. banks have about $27 billion at risk in Brazil, some of which could be lost if the country is forced to default or reschedule its debts.

Rubin wasn’t the only official involved in the Brazilian negotiations who would have a role, just over a decade later, in engineering the bailout of U.S. banks. Timothy Geithner was Assistant Secretary for International Affairs in the Treasury Department in 1998 while Lawrence Summers was the Deputy Secretary under Rubin.

In order to get more information about the behind-the-scenes negotiations taking place in the fall of 1998, the Center for Economic and Policy Research filed a FOIA request with the U.S. Department of the Treasury back in 2013. Unfortunately, the documents that were released just this month are subject to much censorship. Of 111 pages, 44 were withheld in full, while 26 were heavily redacted. The few documents released in full contain little of substance. But the exemption used in the redactions is just as interesting as the mysterious text behind the black markings. The vast majority of redactions were made under (b)(1), which “protects information that could reasonably be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to the national security as it pertains to foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States.”

Whatever was happening behind the scenes in the fall of ’98, the U.S. government still doesn’t want the public – including the Brazilian public – to know about it even 17 years later. 

Brazil IMF FOIA Oct 3 G7 Meeting by Center for Economic and Policy Research

IMF Treasury Brazil 1998_FOIA_1 by Center for Economic and Policy Research

IMF Treasury Brazil 1998_FOIA_2 by Center for Economic and Policy Research

Brazil currently has its most conservative Congress in decades. As violence against social movements increases and the criminalization of Brazilian social movements in the media and judiciary intensifies, it is a good time to take a closer look at who these movements are and what they are doing. How did they start, and what is their position in the current political context? This article is meant to serve as a very brief introduction to two of the largest Brazilian social movements: the MST and the UNMP.

During the 1970s, as Brazil suffered under a U.S.-supported neofascist military dictatorship, liberation theology factions within the Catholic Church created political organizing groups, called ecclesiastic base communities, in poor villages and slums. Using methodological tools developed by philosophers such as Paulo Freire, and influenced by Marxism, the priests and nuns began to develop local leaders and organize exchanges among them at the local, regional and national level. There were other factors at work, but the role that liberation theologians played, from the final years of the dictatorship until their censure by the Church hierarchy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was fundamental in the formation of the popular (or “poor people’s”) social movements. These movements played an important part in creating one of world’s most progressive constitutions, as well as in the formation of the PT (Workers Party), and the elections and re-elections of Lula Inacio da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.

FNRUPhoto courtesy of the UNMP-São Paulo.

The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, or MST (commonly called the Landless Peasants’ Movement, or Landless Workers’ Movement), was created in 1984 to address historic inequalities in rural areas (caused by 500 years of monoculture) by fighting for agrarian reform, collectively squatting on and farming on unproductive land under the slogan “Occupy, Resist, Produce.” Due mainly to its efforts, this practice is considered legal under the 1988 Constitution (although the Constitution is frequently ignored by local governments and the judiciary in Brazil) and is now regulated, supported and protected by a government agency called the Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária.

Over the first 16 years of its existence, the MST established small farms for 250,000 of its affiliated families. During the Lula presidency, the MST began to shift its focus, slowing the number of land occupations and consolidating democratic, community control over its hundreds of villages spread across 23 states. Lula increased educational funding for agrarian-reform village residents by over 500 percent, with funding for adult literacy (using a highly effective Cuban methodology) and teacher training programs made in partnership with public universities so that they could staff, manage and develop curriculums for the public schools built in their villages. There are currently thousands of MST members studying at public universities, with many producing high-quality research on the MST and agrarian reform, and many local schools in MST villages staffed entirely by movement members.

Over the past 15 years, the MST strengthened its relationship with the Via Campesina International Peasants’ Movement, engaging in political organizing work in countries around the developing world and coordinating large protests against mining and agribusiness multinationals like Vale and Cargill.  In 2004, over 1,000 MST members built a political organizing school with degree-granting capability called the Escola Florestan Fernandes [PDF]. The school has a working organic farm, where young poor people from around the developing world come on exchange visits to work and study, and receives financial and technical support from the Brazilian government, which supports joint projects with public universities around the country.

Despite the frequent mischaracterization of one of its national leaders, João Pedro Stedile, as the MST’s director in the conservative media, the MST does not have a single leader, but operates according to a democratic structure in which pairs of male and female representatives, chosen at the family cluster, village, regional and state levels, serve two-year terms and can be removed from above or below any time their work is not deemed satisfactory, with the 23 pairs of state-level representatives serving as national directors.

The MST also has close relations with the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT) labor union federation, and the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, among others, and has adopted a policy of critical engagement with the PT. The MST generally supports the PT in elections, as in most recently the re-election of Dilma Rousseff, but protests against various elements of government policy that it disagrees with, especially government support for agribusiness, which has grown particularly egregious under Rousseff’s second administration. 

The União Nacional por Moradia Popular (UNMP, the National Union for Popular Housing) was formed by ecclesiastical base community leaders from Paraná, São Paulo and Minas Gerais states during the national mobilization for people’s amendments to the 1988 Constitution, and currently operates in 19 states. Essentially, it is a federation of dozens of urban housing movements, with some 200,000 members from around the country. The members of the UNMP employ two strategies to achieve their goal of guaranteeing the constitutional right to dignified housing and endorsement of the social function of property. The first strategy is to occupy abandoned buildings in the downtown areas of major cities, resisting eviction and pressuring local governments to rehabilitate the buildings and convert them into public housing. The second strategy is to occupy unproductive, vacant land on urban peripheries and build autonomous, self-managed housing cooperatives.

President Lula incorporated funding for social movements to build such cooperatives on unproductive land into his national development strategy, through the R$2.3 billion National Social Interest Housing Fund, which was then expanded and incorporated into the R$216 billion national housing program, Minha Casa Minha Vida [PDF], which, in addition to funding construction of millions of housing units for the middle class,  subsidizes social movements’ autonomous construction of around 20,000 housing units per year. According to program guidelines, the deeds to these properties are automatically registered in the name of the woman of the household, and the results to date have mainly been condominium complexes located on the urban peripheries. 

The UNMP has historic ties with the PT.  Although, in my opinion, it has a less critical posture with regard to the PT than the MST, the UNMP also engages in protests against the federal government, often pressuring for more funding for autonomous housing construction, and for the prioritizing of projects closer to downtown areas. Last month, it joined the MST, other social movements like the Movimento Nacional de Luta pela Moradia and the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST), and the CUT and Central dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras do Brasil labor union federations, in protests against a congressional bill that would greatly increase companies’ ability to outsource, and against the austerity measures proposed by Dilma Rousseff’s new, neoliberal finance minister, Joaquim Levy. The protesters were attacked by police in front of the Federal Congress building and several were hospitalized.

When some middle-class intellectuals make valid criticisms of the PT from the left – and there is plenty to complain about – they occasionally accuse the PT of co-opting social movements. I view this as a gross oversimplification that shows a lack of respect for the base members’ agency and a misunderstanding of the democratic processes by which these movements self-govern. I’ve worked with social movement leadership and rank and file for the past decade in Brazil and see no signs of individual co-optation. The national leaders of the MST receive a living stipend from the movement, equivalent to one minimum salary. The national leadership of the UNMP live in their own public housing along with other movement members. If a social movement receives some of what it has been fighting for and supports a government in an election as a result, has it been co-opted or is it merely voting in its best interests? Although both the MST and the UNMP support socialism, all favor construction of Gramscian counterhegemony over armed revolt as a strategy for achieving this. I believe that the reason they still support the PT is because, although they value the moral criticism raised by further-left parties such as the PSOL (Socialism and Freedom Party) and PSTU (United Socialist Workers’ Party), they don’t see them as capable of gaining electoral power.

On the other hand, how does the movements’ public support for a political party that has been in power for 13 years and been involved in a series of corruption scandals, affect the ability to mobilize naturally rebellious young people in the movements?  Membership in the social movement leadership and rank and file is aging and with the surge of evangelical Christianity among the poor, the weakened ecclesiastical base communities are no longer capable of introducing large numbers of young people into the movements.  One of the biggest challenges that the MST and UNMP face is how to mobilize youth in the struggle for agrarian and urban reform. In the current shifting political climate, it will be interesting to see if and how they meet this challenge.


Brian Mier is an American social scientist, activist and writer who has lived in Brazil for nearly 20 years.

Brazil currently has its most conservative Congress in decades. As violence against social movements increases and the criminalization of Brazilian social movements in the media and judiciary intensifies, it is a good time to take a closer look at who these movements are and what they are doing. How did they start, and what is their position in the current political context? This article is meant to serve as a very brief introduction to two of the largest Brazilian social movements: the MST and the UNMP.

During the 1970s, as Brazil suffered under a U.S.-supported neofascist military dictatorship, liberation theology factions within the Catholic Church created political organizing groups, called ecclesiastic base communities, in poor villages and slums. Using methodological tools developed by philosophers such as Paulo Freire, and influenced by Marxism, the priests and nuns began to develop local leaders and organize exchanges among them at the local, regional and national level. There were other factors at work, but the role that liberation theologians played, from the final years of the dictatorship until their censure by the Church hierarchy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was fundamental in the formation of the popular (or “poor people’s”) social movements. These movements played an important part in creating one of world’s most progressive constitutions, as well as in the formation of the PT (Workers Party), and the elections and re-elections of Lula Inacio da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.

FNRUPhoto courtesy of the UNMP-São Paulo.

The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, or MST (commonly called the Landless Peasants’ Movement, or Landless Workers’ Movement), was created in 1984 to address historic inequalities in rural areas (caused by 500 years of monoculture) by fighting for agrarian reform, collectively squatting on and farming on unproductive land under the slogan “Occupy, Resist, Produce.” Due mainly to its efforts, this practice is considered legal under the 1988 Constitution (although the Constitution is frequently ignored by local governments and the judiciary in Brazil) and is now regulated, supported and protected by a government agency called the Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária.

Over the first 16 years of its existence, the MST established small farms for 250,000 of its affiliated families. During the Lula presidency, the MST began to shift its focus, slowing the number of land occupations and consolidating democratic, community control over its hundreds of villages spread across 23 states. Lula increased educational funding for agrarian-reform village residents by over 500 percent, with funding for adult literacy (using a highly effective Cuban methodology) and teacher training programs made in partnership with public universities so that they could staff, manage and develop curriculums for the public schools built in their villages. There are currently thousands of MST members studying at public universities, with many producing high-quality research on the MST and agrarian reform, and many local schools in MST villages staffed entirely by movement members.

Over the past 15 years, the MST strengthened its relationship with the Via Campesina International Peasants’ Movement, engaging in political organizing work in countries around the developing world and coordinating large protests against mining and agribusiness multinationals like Vale and Cargill.  In 2004, over 1,000 MST members built a political organizing school with degree-granting capability called the Escola Florestan Fernandes [PDF]. The school has a working organic farm, where young poor people from around the developing world come on exchange visits to work and study, and receives financial and technical support from the Brazilian government, which supports joint projects with public universities around the country.

Despite the frequent mischaracterization of one of its national leaders, João Pedro Stedile, as the MST’s director in the conservative media, the MST does not have a single leader, but operates according to a democratic structure in which pairs of male and female representatives, chosen at the family cluster, village, regional and state levels, serve two-year terms and can be removed from above or below any time their work is not deemed satisfactory, with the 23 pairs of state-level representatives serving as national directors.

The MST also has close relations with the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT) labor union federation, and the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, among others, and has adopted a policy of critical engagement with the PT. The MST generally supports the PT in elections, as in most recently the re-election of Dilma Rousseff, but protests against various elements of government policy that it disagrees with, especially government support for agribusiness, which has grown particularly egregious under Rousseff’s second administration. 

The União Nacional por Moradia Popular (UNMP, the National Union for Popular Housing) was formed by ecclesiastical base community leaders from Paraná, São Paulo and Minas Gerais states during the national mobilization for people’s amendments to the 1988 Constitution, and currently operates in 19 states. Essentially, it is a federation of dozens of urban housing movements, with some 200,000 members from around the country. The members of the UNMP employ two strategies to achieve their goal of guaranteeing the constitutional right to dignified housing and endorsement of the social function of property. The first strategy is to occupy abandoned buildings in the downtown areas of major cities, resisting eviction and pressuring local governments to rehabilitate the buildings and convert them into public housing. The second strategy is to occupy unproductive, vacant land on urban peripheries and build autonomous, self-managed housing cooperatives.

President Lula incorporated funding for social movements to build such cooperatives on unproductive land into his national development strategy, through the R$2.3 billion National Social Interest Housing Fund, which was then expanded and incorporated into the R$216 billion national housing program, Minha Casa Minha Vida [PDF], which, in addition to funding construction of millions of housing units for the middle class,  subsidizes social movements’ autonomous construction of around 20,000 housing units per year. According to program guidelines, the deeds to these properties are automatically registered in the name of the woman of the household, and the results to date have mainly been condominium complexes located on the urban peripheries. 

The UNMP has historic ties with the PT.  Although, in my opinion, it has a less critical posture with regard to the PT than the MST, the UNMP also engages in protests against the federal government, often pressuring for more funding for autonomous housing construction, and for the prioritizing of projects closer to downtown areas. Last month, it joined the MST, other social movements like the Movimento Nacional de Luta pela Moradia and the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST), and the CUT and Central dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras do Brasil labor union federations, in protests against a congressional bill that would greatly increase companies’ ability to outsource, and against the austerity measures proposed by Dilma Rousseff’s new, neoliberal finance minister, Joaquim Levy. The protesters were attacked by police in front of the Federal Congress building and several were hospitalized.

When some middle-class intellectuals make valid criticisms of the PT from the left – and there is plenty to complain about – they occasionally accuse the PT of co-opting social movements. I view this as a gross oversimplification that shows a lack of respect for the base members’ agency and a misunderstanding of the democratic processes by which these movements self-govern. I’ve worked with social movement leadership and rank and file for the past decade in Brazil and see no signs of individual co-optation. The national leaders of the MST receive a living stipend from the movement, equivalent to one minimum salary. The national leadership of the UNMP live in their own public housing along with other movement members. If a social movement receives some of what it has been fighting for and supports a government in an election as a result, has it been co-opted or is it merely voting in its best interests? Although both the MST and the UNMP support socialism, all favor construction of Gramscian counterhegemony over armed revolt as a strategy for achieving this. I believe that the reason they still support the PT is because, although they value the moral criticism raised by further-left parties such as the PSOL (Socialism and Freedom Party) and PSTU (United Socialist Workers’ Party), they don’t see them as capable of gaining electoral power.

On the other hand, how does the movements’ public support for a political party that has been in power for 13 years and been involved in a series of corruption scandals, affect the ability to mobilize naturally rebellious young people in the movements?  Membership in the social movement leadership and rank and file is aging and with the surge of evangelical Christianity among the poor, the weakened ecclesiastical base communities are no longer capable of introducing large numbers of young people into the movements.  One of the biggest challenges that the MST and UNMP face is how to mobilize youth in the struggle for agrarian and urban reform. In the current shifting political climate, it will be interesting to see if and how they meet this challenge.


Brian Mier is an American social scientist, activist and writer who has lived in Brazil for nearly 20 years.

While the maquiladora export industry is sometimes touted as a symbol of progress and development in underdeveloped countries, the reality for many workers implies otherwise. In Central America, maquilas act as multinational levers to gain profit, but are not a guarantee of a sufficient income for workers.

According to a 2014 report [PDF] published by labor and social organizations, in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – the Northern Triangle countries of Central America – approximately 350,000 [PDF] workers are employed in the maquiladora industry: 80,000 in El Salvador, 150,729 in Guatemala and 120,000 in Honduras.  As Table 1 illustrates, on average, 54 percent [PDF] of these countries’ total exports to the U.S. are produced in the maquiladora industry (42 percent for El Salvador, 55 percent for Guatemala and 65 percent for Honduras).

Table 1

Data from the U.S. Office of Textiles and Apparel shows that Central America and the Dominican Republic produce around 10 percent of all apparel goods purchased in the U.S., of which 70 percent is produced in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. This means that Central America is behind only China (which produces 36 percent) and Vietnam (which produces 11 percent) in clothing exports to the U.S. Among the largest sectors that Central America exports to the U.S. are cotton knitted T-shirts (23.1 percent of these U.S. imports in dollars) and cotton underwear (24.7 percent of these U.S. imports in dollars).

The apparel export industry in Central America is concentrated in the hands of a few multinationals. Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, and Gildan Activewear are three of the biggest North American corporations operating in Honduras, employing around 25 percent of maquiladora workers in the country. Fruit of the Loom alone employs approximately 24,000 workers in Honduras and El Salvador. Nike and Adidas also subcontract production to maquiladoras; together they have about 30 outsourcing companies in Honduras alone.

As the following graph shows, the daily minimum wage for workers in maquilas in the Northern Triangle countries represents, on average, 13 percent of the federal minimum wage in the U.S.

Minimum Wage Comparison
Source: Guatemala (www.mintrabajo.gob.gt), Honduras (http://www.trabajo.gob.hn/), El Salvador (http://www.mtps.gob.sv/), U.S. ( http://www.dol.gov).

Minimum wage levels in the maquiladora industry of the Northern Triangle countries are especially low considering the cost of a basket of basic consumer goods. A report [PDF] published by the Maquila Solidarity Network demonstrates the low purchasing power of the minimum wages earned by workers in maquiladoras. On average, these wages are equivalent to only 37 percent of the cost of the basic basket of consumer goods (including services).  

Cost of Monthly Basket of Basic Consumer Goods -Including Services (MBCG) vs. Maquiladora Minimum Wages, 2014 (USD)

MBCG vs Minimum Wage
Source: Maquila Solidarity Network report [PDF], elaborated with data from Central Banks, Ministries of Labor, Statistic National Institutes (Honduras and Guatemala) and DIGESTYC (El Salvador)

Despite the shocking disparity between the minimum wages and the cost of basic necessities, manufacturers and governments in the Northern Triangle have sought greater flexibility from workers in response to rising competition from China and falling demand in the decelerated U.S. economy.  

One of the most important changes that has taken place in the maquiladora industry since the economic crash of 2008 is the fall in minimum wages below those of the non-maquiladora industrial and service sectors. As the following graphs show, the gap between minimum wages in the maquiladora sector and in the non-maquila manufacturing sector, has been widening in the three Central American countries of the Northern Triangle.

Honduras Daily Minimum Wage
Source: www.trabajo.gob.hn

El Salvador Daily Minimum Wage
Source: www.mtps.gob.sv

Guatemala Daily Minimum Wage
Source: http://www.mintrabajo.gob.gt/

Of the three countries, Honduras shows the greatest difference between maquiladora and non-maquiladora minimum wages. In 2008, the Honduran government approved a 60 percent wage increase for all workers except those in the maquila industry. Since then, the minimum wage in the Honduran maquiladora industry has fallen well below the minimum wages for non-maquila industries.

In El Salvador, the difference between maquila and non-maquila minimum wages has deepened, from a 10 percent difference in 2007, to a 16.3 percent difference in 2014. If this trend continues — with an average yearly growth rate of 4.2 percent for non-maquila workers and 3.1 percent for maquila workers — the latter will be more than 21 percent lower in 2020.  

In Guatemala, there was actually no difference between the minimum wage for EPZ maquila workers and for those in other jobs, but as new wage policies were applied in 2008, this relationship changed; minimum wages in the maquiladora sector are now below the minimum wages in the non-maquila manufacturing sector. The Guatemalan case is the least dramatic, but if the average growth rate of minimum wages in different sectors does not change, minimum wages in maquilas will be 16.5 percent lower than in non-maquila and service sectors.

This suggests that cheap labor may be the greatest competitive advantage for Northern Triangle economies. Such an advantage comes at a cost. The lowering of workers’ wages in the maquiladora industry has become a useful tool by which multinationals can respond to a more sluggish U.S. economy.

There have been various demands for higher minimum wages in the maquiladoras in Central America; even the United Nations has expressed concern. However, governments in Central America have insisted on limiting wage growth in response to demands from manufacturers such as Fruit of the Loom, Gildan, Hanes, Adidas, Nike, and others, despite the costs to workers.

Recently, the U.S. and Central American governments have proposed tackling the migration crisis through the “Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity”; however as we have described in previous posts, “the plan makes no reference to greater bargaining power for workers, higher wages or increased benefits, let alone labor unions – all of which would indeed help to reduce inequality and poverty.” Instead, the governments insist on pushing down wages further, while largely addressing the issue of migration as a security problem. Instead of raising pay and ensuring good working conditions, the region is being militarized to contain outward migration. How about calling this the “pressure cooker model”?

While the maquiladora export industry is sometimes touted as a symbol of progress and development in underdeveloped countries, the reality for many workers implies otherwise. In Central America, maquilas act as multinational levers to gain profit, but are not a guarantee of a sufficient income for workers.

According to a 2014 report [PDF] published by labor and social organizations, in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – the Northern Triangle countries of Central America – approximately 350,000 [PDF] workers are employed in the maquiladora industry: 80,000 in El Salvador, 150,729 in Guatemala and 120,000 in Honduras.  As Table 1 illustrates, on average, 54 percent [PDF] of these countries’ total exports to the U.S. are produced in the maquiladora industry (42 percent for El Salvador, 55 percent for Guatemala and 65 percent for Honduras).

Table 1

Data from the U.S. Office of Textiles and Apparel shows that Central America and the Dominican Republic produce around 10 percent of all apparel goods purchased in the U.S., of which 70 percent is produced in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. This means that Central America is behind only China (which produces 36 percent) and Vietnam (which produces 11 percent) in clothing exports to the U.S. Among the largest sectors that Central America exports to the U.S. are cotton knitted T-shirts (23.1 percent of these U.S. imports in dollars) and cotton underwear (24.7 percent of these U.S. imports in dollars).

The apparel export industry in Central America is concentrated in the hands of a few multinationals. Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, and Gildan Activewear are three of the biggest North American corporations operating in Honduras, employing around 25 percent of maquiladora workers in the country. Fruit of the Loom alone employs approximately 24,000 workers in Honduras and El Salvador. Nike and Adidas also subcontract production to maquiladoras; together they have about 30 outsourcing companies in Honduras alone.

As the following graph shows, the daily minimum wage for workers in maquilas in the Northern Triangle countries represents, on average, 13 percent of the federal minimum wage in the U.S.

Minimum Wage Comparison
Source: Guatemala (www.mintrabajo.gob.gt), Honduras (http://www.trabajo.gob.hn/), El Salvador (http://www.mtps.gob.sv/), U.S. ( http://www.dol.gov).

Minimum wage levels in the maquiladora industry of the Northern Triangle countries are especially low considering the cost of a basket of basic consumer goods. A report [PDF] published by the Maquila Solidarity Network demonstrates the low purchasing power of the minimum wages earned by workers in maquiladoras. On average, these wages are equivalent to only 37 percent of the cost of the basic basket of consumer goods (including services).  

Cost of Monthly Basket of Basic Consumer Goods -Including Services (MBCG) vs. Maquiladora Minimum Wages, 2014 (USD)

MBCG vs Minimum Wage
Source: Maquila Solidarity Network report [PDF], elaborated with data from Central Banks, Ministries of Labor, Statistic National Institutes (Honduras and Guatemala) and DIGESTYC (El Salvador)

Despite the shocking disparity between the minimum wages and the cost of basic necessities, manufacturers and governments in the Northern Triangle have sought greater flexibility from workers in response to rising competition from China and falling demand in the decelerated U.S. economy.  

One of the most important changes that has taken place in the maquiladora industry since the economic crash of 2008 is the fall in minimum wages below those of the non-maquiladora industrial and service sectors. As the following graphs show, the gap between minimum wages in the maquiladora sector and in the non-maquila manufacturing sector, has been widening in the three Central American countries of the Northern Triangle.

Honduras Daily Minimum Wage
Source: www.trabajo.gob.hn

El Salvador Daily Minimum Wage
Source: www.mtps.gob.sv

Guatemala Daily Minimum Wage
Source: http://www.mintrabajo.gob.gt/

Of the three countries, Honduras shows the greatest difference between maquiladora and non-maquiladora minimum wages. In 2008, the Honduran government approved a 60 percent wage increase for all workers except those in the maquila industry. Since then, the minimum wage in the Honduran maquiladora industry has fallen well below the minimum wages for non-maquila industries.

In El Salvador, the difference between maquila and non-maquila minimum wages has deepened, from a 10 percent difference in 2007, to a 16.3 percent difference in 2014. If this trend continues — with an average yearly growth rate of 4.2 percent for non-maquila workers and 3.1 percent for maquila workers — the latter will be more than 21 percent lower in 2020.  

In Guatemala, there was actually no difference between the minimum wage for EPZ maquila workers and for those in other jobs, but as new wage policies were applied in 2008, this relationship changed; minimum wages in the maquiladora sector are now below the minimum wages in the non-maquila manufacturing sector. The Guatemalan case is the least dramatic, but if the average growth rate of minimum wages in different sectors does not change, minimum wages in maquilas will be 16.5 percent lower than in non-maquila and service sectors.

This suggests that cheap labor may be the greatest competitive advantage for Northern Triangle economies. Such an advantage comes at a cost. The lowering of workers’ wages in the maquiladora industry has become a useful tool by which multinationals can respond to a more sluggish U.S. economy.

There have been various demands for higher minimum wages in the maquiladoras in Central America; even the United Nations has expressed concern. However, governments in Central America have insisted on limiting wage growth in response to demands from manufacturers such as Fruit of the Loom, Gildan, Hanes, Adidas, Nike, and others, despite the costs to workers.

Recently, the U.S. and Central American governments have proposed tackling the migration crisis through the “Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity”; however as we have described in previous posts, “the plan makes no reference to greater bargaining power for workers, higher wages or increased benefits, let alone labor unions – all of which would indeed help to reduce inequality and poverty.” Instead, the governments insist on pushing down wages further, while largely addressing the issue of migration as a security problem. Instead of raising pay and ensuring good working conditions, the region is being militarized to contain outward migration. How about calling this the “pressure cooker model”?

On January 21, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the beginning of a national program called “Mexico with Decent Work” (México con Trabajo Digno), with the stated mission to “promote the respect, protection and guarantee of human rights for workers in Mexico, as well as to ensure decent work is fully in force.” However, only two months later, as Secretary of Labor Alfonso Navarrete boasted that the program was rescuing people working practically in slave conditions, thousands of farmworkers in the San Quintín Valley in the Northeastern state of Baja California went on strike, demanding higher wages and better working conditions from the government and multinational corporations.

Negotiations have yet to move forward. The Mexican government seems unable to respond, perhaps because the organized farmworkers are challenging an alliance between multinational corporations, public officials who also have business in the valley, and corporate unionism– a system that protects the interests of employers.

San Quintín Valley is one of Mexico’s largest export regions, employing tens of thousands of farmworkers, many of them first or second generation indigenous migrants [PDF] originally from Southern Mexico. Each year the region generates more than six billion pesos (about $410 million) worth of agricultural products. It is estimated that there are 80 thousand farmworkers in the San Quintín Valley, and yet in the municipality of Ensenada, which encompasses all of San Quintín, there are less than 24 thousand farm workers registered with the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS). The most important good produced is strawberries, but only a small portion of these are consumed in Mexico. Most are exported to the U.S. market to be sold by fast food chains, or in supermarkets like Wal-Mart, Safeway, or Whole Foods. Around 84 percent of U.S. imports of fresh strawberries come from Mexico, and Baja California leads Mexico’s production and export of strawberries.

Luis Hernández Navarro, Mexican journalist and coordinator of the opinion section of La Jornada, referred to the working conditions this way:

San Quintín’s day farmworkers labour in humiliating conditions on farms that grow produce for export: tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries. In exchange for starvation wages, they work up to 14- hour days without a weekly day of rest, let alone holidays or social security. Foremen sexually abuse the women, and they are forced to take their children to the premises to perform work.

… Many [workers] are indigenous migrants from Oaxaca (Mixtec and Triqui), Guerrero, Puebla and Veracruz, who have made San Quintín into another of their communities. Three generations of Oaxacalifornianos live there. They suffer constant police harassment. They rely on a single hospital [run by the] Mexican Social Security Institute [IMSS].

The strike launched by the Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice (AONEMJS) seeks a wage increase from $8.00 to $13.50 per day. The workers also demand their employers follow both their obligations to pay into Mexico’s social security and health insurance system, and the labor laws. The workers’ alliance also demands an end to sexual harassment in the fields and revocation of contracts with unions affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

As of today, the Mexican government has shown no willingness to engage in any sort of dialogue. First the Baja California government responded with violence, but this failed to break the strike. Then there was a brief period of negotiations with local government representatives that also failed when the officials offered only a 15 percent pay increase, far short of meeting the demands presented by workers.

Although this conflict has received some coverage in the U.S. due to the efforts of the AFL-CIO and the Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB), too little has been said about the responsibility of BerryMex, “one of Driscoll’s largest suppliers in the region” according to Rachel Luban from In These Times.[1]  Since the conflict began, BerryMex has published six press releases evading responsibility and insisting that they provide good working conditions for their workers. For example:

BerryMex has a long and established history of listening to worker concerns and taking action to provide them with the most comprehensive benefits, attractive earning capacity, and a healthy, safe and productive working environment.

And:

BerryMex provides comprehensive harvest employment opportunities including:

-Offering an average earning opportunity of between $5.00 – $9.00 (USD) per hour, ($75.00 mxp – $135,00 mxp) -and up to $10.00 (USD) ($150.00 mxp) per hour for high performers, resulting in the average weekly earnings of $3 600.00 pesos or $240.00 (USD) to 7,200.00 pesos or $480.00 (USD).

-This is approximately 8x the minimum federal wage and as much as 16x for high performers.

The Los Angeles Times has closely followed this conflict, and the Times’ Richard Marosi reported that BerryMex workers say they do not earn anywhere near the wage announced by the company:

Driscoll’s, in a statement last week, said BerryMex workers can earn $5 to $9 an hour.

That amount is inaccurate, farmworker leaders and several current and former BerryMex workers said. They say that under optimal conditions workers earn no more than $3 an hour, and that after peak harvest periods, pay drops to about half that amount.

One grower from the region, DeWayne Hafen, also questioned the BerryMex wage figures. Most pickers fill about 30 boxes a day during peak harvest periods, earning about $3.50 an hour, he said. The $9 figure, he said, isn’t possible.

On April 4, the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project and FIOB gathered outside Driscoll’s facilities in Oxnard, California in order to show the responsibility that this multinational has in the conflict in San Quintín. FIOB spokesperson Gaspar Rivera told a reporter for La Jornada that BerryMex was one of the companies that had negotiated a wage increase of 15 percent with the corporate unions, ignoring petitions made by the Alliance:

[Rivera] said that the “Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (CROC), signed a “security contract” with the agro-businesses of San Quintín, including Driscoll’s company, accepting a wage increase of 15 percent, “on the backs of 80,000 workers and the Alliance,” which represented the workers in the negotiations.

BerryMex not only appears to be dishonest in saying that their employees get paid between $5 and $8 per hour, it also—along with other companies—takes advantage of the corporate union structure known as “sindicatos charros” in Mexico, in order to evade responsibility. Historically linked to the PRI, the CROC, the Confederation of Mexican Workers, and the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers, who are all involved in the recruitment of farmworkers in San Quintín and  function as tools for employers to prevent the free association of workers, and are now being used by companies like Driscoll’s and BerryMex against the AONEMJS.

On Friday, May 9, federal authorities broke the agreement they had made to continue participating in negotiations. The undersecretary of the Mexican government, Luis Miranda, was expected to travel to San Quintín to meet with members of the AONEMJS, but he did not appear. The next day, during a “Global Action for San Quintín,” police violently broke up a protest of the AONEMJS outside the Rancho Seco company. As documented in La Jornada de Baja California, workers report being attacked:

Once he realized the situation, the owner of the farm called the police, who arrived at around 5:00 in the morning and charged at the day laborers who advocated for continuing the strike. Some of them ran towards their homes and were pursued by the police, who entered the homes and hit women and children even as they slept.

When BerryMex issued their first press release on the labor dispute, on March 21, it read, in part: “we strongly condemn the violence and looting from outside third parties which has negatively impacted families and small businesses across the region.” Why doesn’t BerryMex now condemn this police violence against farm workers which has resulted in 70 people injured, seven of them seriously? Why doesn’t BerryMex call for dialogue between the government and the AONEMJS?

This is not the first time that Driscoll’s has tried to evade its responsibilities to the workers who harvest its products; “its carefully crafted image obscures a record of unfair labor practices,” as Marosi reports. Even today, as San Quintín workers strike, farmworkers at the Sakuma Berry Farm in Burlington, Washington—an important supplier of Driscoll’s—have called for a boycott in order to pressure the firm to ensure that farmworkers get better wages, housing and working conditions. The farmworkers’ union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), said, “Almost every year, there has been a labor dispute, some end in firing and evictions, while others have been full on work stoppages with only one in 2004, resulting in minor temporary concessions.” Farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers Farms are calling for an end to what they describe “as wage theft, unfair piece rate agreements and verbal abuse during working hours,” as Leon Kaye wrote in Triple Pundit.

In San Quintín, the Alliance demonstrated its willingness to negotiate by lowering its request for a salary increase from $20 to $13 per day. However, the Mexican government has not reciprocated, proving that it is responsive only to the immediate interests of businesses. If Driscoll’s does not change its attitude toward the conflict in San Quintín, it will be showing that its growth is based on the insecurity and impoverishment of its workers. It would be proof that the company does not respect labor rights, and it would be a demonstration that it finds the corporate structure of Mexican unions extremely useful for its interests. Driscoll’s should take negotiations with the Alliance more seriously.

[1] The Los Angeles Times notes: “About one-quarter of the berries Driscoll’s gets from Baja come from growers other than BerryMex. Driscoll’s declined to provide the names of the other suppliers, which were described as small, locally owned farms.”


Mateo Crossa is an International Program Intern with the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

On January 21, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the beginning of a national program called “Mexico with Decent Work” (México con Trabajo Digno), with the stated mission to “promote the respect, protection and guarantee of human rights for workers in Mexico, as well as to ensure decent work is fully in force.” However, only two months later, as Secretary of Labor Alfonso Navarrete boasted that the program was rescuing people working practically in slave conditions, thousands of farmworkers in the San Quintín Valley in the Northeastern state of Baja California went on strike, demanding higher wages and better working conditions from the government and multinational corporations.

Negotiations have yet to move forward. The Mexican government seems unable to respond, perhaps because the organized farmworkers are challenging an alliance between multinational corporations, public officials who also have business in the valley, and corporate unionism– a system that protects the interests of employers.

San Quintín Valley is one of Mexico’s largest export regions, employing tens of thousands of farmworkers, many of them first or second generation indigenous migrants [PDF] originally from Southern Mexico. Each year the region generates more than six billion pesos (about $410 million) worth of agricultural products. It is estimated that there are 80 thousand farmworkers in the San Quintín Valley, and yet in the municipality of Ensenada, which encompasses all of San Quintín, there are less than 24 thousand farm workers registered with the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS). The most important good produced is strawberries, but only a small portion of these are consumed in Mexico. Most are exported to the U.S. market to be sold by fast food chains, or in supermarkets like Wal-Mart, Safeway, or Whole Foods. Around 84 percent of U.S. imports of fresh strawberries come from Mexico, and Baja California leads Mexico’s production and export of strawberries.

Luis Hernández Navarro, Mexican journalist and coordinator of the opinion section of La Jornada, referred to the working conditions this way:

San Quintín’s day farmworkers labour in humiliating conditions on farms that grow produce for export: tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries. In exchange for starvation wages, they work up to 14- hour days without a weekly day of rest, let alone holidays or social security. Foremen sexually abuse the women, and they are forced to take their children to the premises to perform work.

… Many [workers] are indigenous migrants from Oaxaca (Mixtec and Triqui), Guerrero, Puebla and Veracruz, who have made San Quintín into another of their communities. Three generations of Oaxacalifornianos live there. They suffer constant police harassment. They rely on a single hospital [run by the] Mexican Social Security Institute [IMSS].

The strike launched by the Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice (AONEMJS) seeks a wage increase from $8.00 to $13.50 per day. The workers also demand their employers follow both their obligations to pay into Mexico’s social security and health insurance system, and the labor laws. The workers’ alliance also demands an end to sexual harassment in the fields and revocation of contracts with unions affiliated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

As of today, the Mexican government has shown no willingness to engage in any sort of dialogue. First the Baja California government responded with violence, but this failed to break the strike. Then there was a brief period of negotiations with local government representatives that also failed when the officials offered only a 15 percent pay increase, far short of meeting the demands presented by workers.

Although this conflict has received some coverage in the U.S. due to the efforts of the AFL-CIO and the Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB), too little has been said about the responsibility of BerryMex, “one of Driscoll’s largest suppliers in the region” according to Rachel Luban from In These Times.[1]  Since the conflict began, BerryMex has published six press releases evading responsibility and insisting that they provide good working conditions for their workers. For example:

BerryMex has a long and established history of listening to worker concerns and taking action to provide them with the most comprehensive benefits, attractive earning capacity, and a healthy, safe and productive working environment.

And:

BerryMex provides comprehensive harvest employment opportunities including:

-Offering an average earning opportunity of between $5.00 – $9.00 (USD) per hour, ($75.00 mxp – $135,00 mxp) -and up to $10.00 (USD) ($150.00 mxp) per hour for high performers, resulting in the average weekly earnings of $3 600.00 pesos or $240.00 (USD) to 7,200.00 pesos or $480.00 (USD).

-This is approximately 8x the minimum federal wage and as much as 16x for high performers.

The Los Angeles Times has closely followed this conflict, and the Times’ Richard Marosi reported that BerryMex workers say they do not earn anywhere near the wage announced by the company:

Driscoll’s, in a statement last week, said BerryMex workers can earn $5 to $9 an hour.

That amount is inaccurate, farmworker leaders and several current and former BerryMex workers said. They say that under optimal conditions workers earn no more than $3 an hour, and that after peak harvest periods, pay drops to about half that amount.

One grower from the region, DeWayne Hafen, also questioned the BerryMex wage figures. Most pickers fill about 30 boxes a day during peak harvest periods, earning about $3.50 an hour, he said. The $9 figure, he said, isn’t possible.

On April 4, the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project and FIOB gathered outside Driscoll’s facilities in Oxnard, California in order to show the responsibility that this multinational has in the conflict in San Quintín. FIOB spokesperson Gaspar Rivera told a reporter for La Jornada that BerryMex was one of the companies that had negotiated a wage increase of 15 percent with the corporate unions, ignoring petitions made by the Alliance:

[Rivera] said that the “Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (CROC), signed a “security contract” with the agro-businesses of San Quintín, including Driscoll’s company, accepting a wage increase of 15 percent, “on the backs of 80,000 workers and the Alliance,” which represented the workers in the negotiations.

BerryMex not only appears to be dishonest in saying that their employees get paid between $5 and $8 per hour, it also—along with other companies—takes advantage of the corporate union structure known as “sindicatos charros” in Mexico, in order to evade responsibility. Historically linked to the PRI, the CROC, the Confederation of Mexican Workers, and the Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers, who are all involved in the recruitment of farmworkers in San Quintín and  function as tools for employers to prevent the free association of workers, and are now being used by companies like Driscoll’s and BerryMex against the AONEMJS.

On Friday, May 9, federal authorities broke the agreement they had made to continue participating in negotiations. The undersecretary of the Mexican government, Luis Miranda, was expected to travel to San Quintín to meet with members of the AONEMJS, but he did not appear. The next day, during a “Global Action for San Quintín,” police violently broke up a protest of the AONEMJS outside the Rancho Seco company. As documented in La Jornada de Baja California, workers report being attacked:

Once he realized the situation, the owner of the farm called the police, who arrived at around 5:00 in the morning and charged at the day laborers who advocated for continuing the strike. Some of them ran towards their homes and were pursued by the police, who entered the homes and hit women and children even as they slept.

When BerryMex issued their first press release on the labor dispute, on March 21, it read, in part: “we strongly condemn the violence and looting from outside third parties which has negatively impacted families and small businesses across the region.” Why doesn’t BerryMex now condemn this police violence against farm workers which has resulted in 70 people injured, seven of them seriously? Why doesn’t BerryMex call for dialogue between the government and the AONEMJS?

This is not the first time that Driscoll’s has tried to evade its responsibilities to the workers who harvest its products; “its carefully crafted image obscures a record of unfair labor practices,” as Marosi reports. Even today, as San Quintín workers strike, farmworkers at the Sakuma Berry Farm in Burlington, Washington—an important supplier of Driscoll’s—have called for a boycott in order to pressure the firm to ensure that farmworkers get better wages, housing and working conditions. The farmworkers’ union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), said, “Almost every year, there has been a labor dispute, some end in firing and evictions, while others have been full on work stoppages with only one in 2004, resulting in minor temporary concessions.” Farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers Farms are calling for an end to what they describe “as wage theft, unfair piece rate agreements and verbal abuse during working hours,” as Leon Kaye wrote in Triple Pundit.

In San Quintín, the Alliance demonstrated its willingness to negotiate by lowering its request for a salary increase from $20 to $13 per day. However, the Mexican government has not reciprocated, proving that it is responsive only to the immediate interests of businesses. If Driscoll’s does not change its attitude toward the conflict in San Quintín, it will be showing that its growth is based on the insecurity and impoverishment of its workers. It would be proof that the company does not respect labor rights, and it would be a demonstration that it finds the corporate structure of Mexican unions extremely useful for its interests. Driscoll’s should take negotiations with the Alliance more seriously.

[1] The Los Angeles Times notes: “About one-quarter of the berries Driscoll’s gets from Baja come from growers other than BerryMex. Driscoll’s declined to provide the names of the other suppliers, which were described as small, locally owned farms.”


Mateo Crossa is an International Program Intern with the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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