I arrived in Caracas on the night of May 18 at the invitation of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry to be part of the mission of international accompaniment of the presidential elections in that country. We were more than 200 people from social organizations, politics, civil society and experts from electoral institutes around the world who saw in situ the development of the May 20 elections in which Nicolás Maduro (PSUV) contested his re-election with three other candidates: Henri Falcón (Copei), Javier Bertucci (El Cambio) and Reinaldo Quijada (UPP89).
In the midst of a highly polarized situation and a high level of mistrust of international public opinion motivated to a large extent by the persistent way of informing the opposition media of the Venezuelan government, I had the opportunity to know in detail the mechanism of electronic voting that implements the National Electoral Council (CNE).
My impression after touring throughout the morning of Saturday, May 19, the CNE's National Logistics Production Center located in the State of Miranda, was that of an efficient and transparent electoral system. The technicians in charge showed us every step that takes the preparation of the used machines so that people vote until they are sent to the whole country by air, sea and land. This pre-electoral process includes an audit where CNE technicians, representatives of all political parties in contention, and external auditors participate. There are also post-electoral audits, both at the polling place, and at the level of general operation in several phases.
That form of voting, which at the time was qualified by the former US President Jimmy Carter as the best in the world (2012), has served twenty years in Venezuela. In the CNE, which already has a small museum about it, I could see how the technology of the machines used since 1998 has advanced, and how now they even manufacture them. The models used in this period range from the old and bulky MV 3300, to the current and much more practical MV 4300. There are approximately 47 thousand of these devices that were used last Sunday in order to guarantee the right to suffrage of the most of 20 million voters in Venezuela.
This technology allows, unlike other countries such as Peru, results in irreversible trend to be known on the night of the vote, which reduces the perception of electoral manipulation. Thus, at 9pm on May 20, the CNE gave its results to 92.54%, which already showed an advantage of more than 4 million votes in favor of Maduro over Falcón.
The next day and almost 100% scrutinized, Maduro reached 6 million 205 thousand 875 votes, while Falcon was ranked second far below with 1 million 920 thousand 597 votes. A comfortable victory that took place in a climate of peace, which I appreciated when traveling from 5am on the day of the election until the closing, various voting centers in the capital city and in the neighboring states of Vargas and Miranda. Also, when reviewing the newspapers, following the social networks and watching the television reports at the end of the day I confirmed that the incidents were minor.
The difference between the first and second place is so great that the few irregularities reported are not substantive. There were reported cases of breach of agreement between the candidates not to locate their party "points" within 200 meters of the voting centers. Unlike Peru, in countries such as Venezuela or Costa Rica, political parties in contention may have more visibility on election day. In fact, in 2013 the candidacy of Henrique Capriles deployed a series of "yellow" points where he took note of the votes of his militants.
In Sunday's election, I did not see any point of Falcon's candidacy, but I did observe several of the so-called tricolor points or "red" points of Maduro's PSUV, although fulfilling the agreed distance. However, according to the spokesperson for the Chavista campaign, when they received news of the irregular cases, they proceeded to correct them. The same happened with the complaint of assisted voting. I took note by the media of a person who was arrested in the State of Zulia for having "helped" several voters to vote.
Again, nothing relevant to consider fraudulent a victory with a difference of more than 40 percentage points: Maduro (67.79%) versus Falcon (20.98%). Needless to say, Bertucci finished with 10.83% of valid votes, not least Quijada with 0.39%. Except for the opposition that called not to vote and whose majority of leaders do politics outside of Venezuela, nobody has indicated fraud.
However, in an act that some analysts called an error, Henri Falcón ignored the electoral process, citing irregularities and advantages. Actually Maduro faced more than Falcon, the most radical opposition parties of the Venezuelan right that called not to vote in order to seek the illegitimacy of the electoral process.
In that scenario, the almost 2 million votes of Falcón projected him as the opposition political leader of greater importance and power than any of the abstentionists of the Democratic Unity Table (MUD) that did not support him, and in the end they were defeated. That is what Falcon would not have calculated when asking for new elections, by the way, something crazy with a difference of four million votes.
At this point, it is necessary to mention that 48% of the electoral roll of Venezuela went to vote. Something like 9 million of 20. Taking into account that the vote is voluntary in that country and that there was a great campaign promoting abstention, in addition to the stoppage of private transporters during the day of voting throughout the country, we are facing a percentage of considerable participation.
Anyway, using this criterion of electoral participation (vote / roll), Maduro has been re-elected with 31.7% of the total number of qualified voters in the register. And that has wanted to be used by the candidacy of Falcon and other sectors of the Venezuelan, continental and European right to delegitimize the results, although Donald Trump was never questioned who was elected in the United States with 27.3% (2016), Juan Manuel Santos who was re-elected in Colombia with 23.7% (2014), or Sebastián Piñera who was elected in Chile with 26.5% (2017), using the same voting criteria on the total voter registry.
A double standard that has no basis in technical-legal arguments, or political-institutional, but in a total war (economic, political, symbolic, etc.) against the Venezuelan model. And from that perspective we can understand the positions and sanctions of the so-called Group of Lima (should be called the Washington Group), the United States and the European Union, which anyway want Maduro out of government, and would not recognize his re-election as well has been more comfortable or would have voted 100% of the Venezuelan electoral roll.
Finally, why did Maduro win so heavily in such a critical scenario?
The first thing to say is that Chavismo has armored the popular sectors against the effects of the economic and financial offensive of the internal economic power elites, of the United States and its transnational and governmental allies. Suffice it to say that in the weeks before the election the parallel exchange rate rose by 400% due to speculation. Then, through different social protection instruments: the so-called CLAP, bonuses, salary increases, etc. the government developed a strategy of survival in a war scenario.
However, apart from the social and political inclusion of sectors that did not participate in the distribution of the oil rent or the decisions before the arrival of Chavez (1998), and that make up a people supporting Maduro today; the division of the opposition and the lack of a more attractive offer than dollarizing the economy and surrendering to the IMF, cutting missions and embracing austerity, is a key factor that makes it difficult to compete effectively with Chavismo.
The dangerous thing is that it is sold internationally as authoritarianism and the consequence, as we saw in 2017, is another violent assault. Let us hope that it is not so and that peace and dialogue prevail in that beautiful but complex country.