Súmate (Spanish for "Join Up") is a Venezuelan volunteer civil association founded in 2002 by María Corina Machado and Alejandro Plaz. Súmate describes itself as a vote-monitoring group;[1] it has also been described as an election-monitoring group.[2]

Logo of Súmate

Mission and values

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Súmate is a non-governmental organization (NGO) whose stated aim is to promote the free exercise of citizen's political rights, and the discussion of matters of public interest. The group's mission is to promote, defend, facilitate, and back the political rights accorded to citizens by the Constitution of Venezuela.

Súmate's espoused values are:

  • The guarantee of civil and political freedom and rights
  • Impartial and independent citizen participation in democratic processes
  • Professional volunteerism with a high level of citizen participation
  • Organizational transparency and efficacy

Other projects are the consolidation of a national network of volunteers; analysis of voter registration; planning and execution of parallel vote counts to strengthen confidence in electoral processes; and educational programs.

History

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María Corina Machado, a founder of Súmate

Hugo Chávez was elected President of Venezuela in 1998. Participation was 64%, with 36% of the electorate abstaining, resulting in a Chávez victory with 35% of the total electorate. In 1999, a new Constitution of Venezuela was approved, making Chávez eligible to run for president again in 2000, for a six-year term; and again in 2006, for another six years. This could result in a Chávez presidency of 14 years, compared to the previous presidential term limit of five years. He won the 2000 election with 60% of the votes cast, 33% of the total electorate, and 44% abstention.

These changes were made to the Constitution and electoral processes based on elections with an overwhelmingly support for Chávez[3] but unprecedented voter abstention[4]—a "poor showing"[5] with most staying away from the polls.[3][6]

Hugo Chávez's Election Results
1998 presidential election
Candidate Votes %
Chávez: 3,673,685 56%
Salas: 2,613,161 40%
Valid votes: 6,537,304
Abstention: 3,971,239 36%
Hugo Chávez's Election Results
— 1999 referendum —
Enact the new constitution?
Option Votes %
Yes: 3,301,475 72%
No: 1,298,105 28%
Abstention: 6,041,743 56%
Hugo Chávez's Election Results
2000 presidential election
Candidate Votes %
Chávez: 3,757,773 60%
Arias: 2,359,459 38%
Valid votes: 6,288,578
Abstention: 5,120,464 44%

Súmate was founded with an expressed goal of achieving a high level of citizen participation in Venezuelan elections. According to The Washington Post, Machado and Plaz had a hurried encounter in a hotel lobby in 2001, where they shared their concern about the course that was being shaped for Venezuela. Machado said, "Something clicked. I had this unsettling feeling that I could not stay at home and watch the country get polarized and collapse.... We had to keep the electoral process but change the course, to give Venezuelans the chance to count ourselves, to dissipate tensions before they built up. It was a choice of ballots over bullets."[7] According to Súmate, it is "not concerned with who governs but rather that those in power respect the rule of law."[8] Súmate was originally composed of a group of professionals, but by 2004 it grew to include 30,000 volunteers from across Venezuela and all walks of life.[7]

Recall referendum, 2004

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A rally in favor of the 2004 Venezuelan referendum to recall Hugo Chávez in the capital, Caracas.

In 2003, Súmate organized a campaign to force a recall referendum revoking the remainder of the term in office of President Chávez, as provided for under Article 72 of the Constitution of Venezuela, which permits citizens to request a recall if signatures are collected from 20% of the electorate.

The recall vote was held on 15 August 2004. A record number of voters turned out but the recall was defeated with a 59% "no" vote.[9] The Carter Center concluded the results were accurate,[10] but European Union observers did not oversee the referendum, saying too many restrictions were put on their participation by the government.[11]

An exit poll by US company Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB) predicted that Chávez would lose by 20%, whereas the election results showed him to have won by 20%. Schoen commented, "I think it was a massive fraud".[12] PSB used Súmate personnel as fieldworkers. Publication or broadcast of exit polls was banned by electoral authorities, but results of the PSB poll went out to media outlets and opposition offices several hours before polls closed.[13] Jimmy Carter said that Súmate "deliberately distributed this erroneous exit poll data in order to build up, not only the expectation of victory, but also to influence the people still standing in line".[14]

Following the recall vote, Súmate requested that Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard University and Roberto Rigobón of MIT perform a statistical analysis analyzing how fraud could have occurred during the referendum. They concluded that the vote samples audited by the government were not a random representation of all precincts and that opposition witnesses and international observers were not allowed near the computer hub on election day.[11][15][16] CEPR, a left-leaning think tank[17] based in Washington, reports that other economists have called the Harvard/MIT assumptions about how fraud was conducted unlikely.[16]

Chávez branded the leaders of Súmate as "conspirators", "coup plotters" and "lackeys of the U.S. government".[18] After the referendum, members of Súmate were charged with treason and conspiracy, under Article 132 of the Venezuelan Penal Code,[19] accused of receiving financial support for their activities from the NED. The trial has been postponed several times.[needs update]

The criminal charges triggered concern from Human Rights Watch[20] and the World Movement for Democracy. The latter accused the government of Venezuela of illegally "withholding case files from the defendants, using depositions of the defendants that were made before the charges against them were known, and refusing to accede to requests of the Supreme Court in the case."[21] Tom Casey, acting spokesman for the State Department, expressed disappointment about the court's decision to try the founders and said the charges were "without merit."[22]

Over 70 individuals, including prominent world leaders, wrote to Chávez on 11 November 2004, pointing out that "proceeding against nongovernmental organizations for receiving democratic assistance is a violation of both the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Warsaw Declaration of the Community of Democracies, a document your government signed along with over 100 others four years ago." The letter indicated that the prosecution, "as well as the proposal to criminalize democracy assistance from abroad" are both "clearly inconsistent with international democratic norms and constitute a grave threat to democracy." Signatories of the letter included Czech President Václav Havel, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, U.S. Senator John McCain, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, former Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro, former Prime Minister of Bulgaria Philip Dimitrov, and Richard Goldstone, former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.[23]

A 2008 Human Rights Watch report expressed concern at the gravity of the charges sought by the prosecution against Súmate, saying that the sought a conviction for the crime of “conspiracy to destroy the nation’s republican form of government,” for a maximum 16-year prison sentence. The report explained that both Súmate and the NED insisted that the funds, a total of $53 400 US dollars, were not used for electoral activities but rather to educate people about the recall referendum, and arguing that even if it supported electoral activity, "the recall referendum was itself a legal process envisaged in the 1999 Constitution" and "not an act of subversion". The report continues saying that in July 2005 a court in Caracas ordered a trial for its Vice President María Corina Machado, her colleague Alejandro Plaz, and two other Súmate staffers. In February 2006, the report says, the process was suspended, after the court of appeals ruled that the trial judge had committed due process violations, including refusing to empanel a jury or to allow key defense witnesses to testify, including the NED directors. The report concludes saying that the appeals court ordered a new jury trial, but that it had been postponed repeatedly and that by 2008, after three years, the process against the NGO was still open.[24]

Presidential elections, 2006

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Súmate recommended procedures for a primary, to be held on 13 August 2006, to choose the opposition candidate for the 3 December 2006 presidential elections.[25] Teodoro Petkoff, a Chávez critic, said that Súmate's procedure was authoritarian, comparing it to the Carmona Decree.[26] Nine other candidates agreed to the terms for holding a primary, confirming their desire to allow the citizens to choose the opposition candidate. Another candidate condemned Petkoff's remarks against Súmate, saying that Petkoff's statements didn't help the country, and explaining that the conditions for holding a primary had been previously discussed between all of the candidates, including Petkoff.[27][28] On 9 August, Súmate announced that the 13 August primary election would not be held, since the candidates had decided to back Manuel Rosales as the single opposition candidate. Machado said that the primary "initiative accomplished its goal and that Súmate would continue working to ensure clean elections and respect for citizens' rights."[29]

On 8 December 2006, Súmate announced that their count and audits of the final election results matched the official count of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council, that showed a landslide victory for Hugo Chávez, highlighting that "balloting was not clean, transparent or reliable."[30] Machado said the government had stacked the odds against the opposition in the pre-election period, including "a climate of collective intimidation" due to the use of fingerprint-reading machines and an unaudited register of voters, and that if irregularities had been corrected, they could have impacted the final result. She clarified that the impact could not be assessed, saying "We will know only the truth about what Venezuelans really feel, the day when clean elections are held in Venezuela."[30]

Personnel

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Plaz is a Venezuelan engineer and management consultant, who holds three master's degrees (two from Stanford University), and was a Senior partner for McKinsey & Company in Latin America, before taking a leave of absence to co-found Súmate. Machado was hailed as "the best of womankind and the difficult times many women face around the globe" on a list of Women the World Should Know for International Women's Day.[31]

Luis Enrique Palacios and Ricardo Estévez were also charged with complicity in treason and conspiracy.[20]

See also

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Notes

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  1. ^ Rice calls Venezuela a big problem for Western Hemisphere. Archived 8 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine The Star, 17 February 2006.
  2. ^ Diehl, Jackson. In Venezuela, Locking Up the Vote. Archived 6 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine Washington Post, reprinted by Hispanic American Center.
  3. ^ a b Gutkin, Steven. Venezuelans back revising constitution. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (26 April 1999). Retrieved 2 August 2007.
  4. ^ Venezuela risk: Political stability risk. Economist Intelligence Unit (25 July 2007). Retrieved 2 August 2007.
  5. ^ Serge F. Kovaleski. Venezuelan Voters Make President More Powerful; The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: 16 December 1999. pg. A.30
  6. ^ Serge F. Kovaleski. Venezuelans Approve Plan For Assembly; Vote Favors Chavez Wish To Rewrite Constitution; The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: 26 April 1999. pg. A.11 "But the turnout today was a sharp contrast to the presidential election on 6 December when 65 percent of the country's registered voters cast ballots. In the capital, Caracas, where there were no reports of violence or voting irregularities, only short lines were seen at many balloting stations, where voters could pick 'yes' or 'no' on whether a constituent assembly was needed and on proposed guidelines for the election of its members."
  7. ^ a b Boustany, Nora. Signing On To Challenge Hugo Chavez. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: 9 July 2004. p. A.15
  8. ^ O'Grady, Mary A. A Young Defender of Democracy Faces Chávez's Wrath. Archived 8 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine Wall Street Journal. 10 June 2005; Page A9.
  9. ^ BBC News. (BBC, 21 September 2004). "Venezuelan Audit Confirms Victory". Retrieved 5 November 2005.
  10. ^ Carter Center (2005). Observing the Venezuela Presidential Recall Referendum: Comprehensive Report. Retrieved 25 January 2006.
  11. ^ a b de Cordoba, Jose and Luhnow, David. "Venezuelans Rush to Vote on Chavez: Polarized Nation Decides Whether to Recall President After Years of Political Rifts". The Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, NY: 16 August 2004. pg. A11.
  12. ^ Barone, M. "Exit polls in Venezuela". Archived 16 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine U.S. News & World Report. 20 August 2004.
  13. ^ U.S. Poll Firm in Hot Water in Venezuela. Associated Press. Retrieved 9 June 2006.
  14. ^ Jones, Bart (3 September 2004). "Venezuela: Divisions harden after Chávez victory". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  15. ^ Juan Francisco Alonso (6 September 2004). Súmate: There is a 99% probability of fraud in referendum. El Universal. Retrieved 6 August 2006.
  16. ^ a b Weisbrot M, Rosnick D, Tucker T (20 September 2004). Black Swans, Conspiracy Theories, and the Quixotic Search for Fraud: A Look at Hausmann and Rigobón's Analysis of Venezuela's Referendum Vote.[permanent dead link] CEPR: Center for Economic and Policy Research. Retrieved 30 June 2006.
  17. ^ Dorell, O. (4/12/2005). Benefit estimates depend on who calculates them. USA Today.Retrieved 30 June 2006.
  18. ^ Chavez Calls Watchdog Group a Top Enemy. CBS News (3 December 2005).
  19. ^ Venezuela: Court Orders Trial of Civil Society Leaders. Human Rights Watch, 7 July 2005.
  20. ^ a b Human Rights Watch. Venezuela: Court Orders Trial of Civil Society Leaders. Retrieved 8 June 2006.
  21. ^ World Movement for Democracy. Democracy Activists in Venezuela Threatened. Archived 30 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine (16 July 2004) Retrieved 8 June 2006.
  22. ^ Embassy of the United States, Venezuela (8 July 2005). "Súmate Trial Decision". Archived 10 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 18 June 2006.
  23. ^ National Endowment for Democracy. International Coalition Expresses Concern for Democracy in Venezuela: Havel, Albright, McCain among signatories of letter to Chavez. (11 November 2004). Retrieved 16 August 2006.
  24. ^ Human Rights Watch (September 2008). A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela (PDF), p. 218. Accessed 24 January 2010
  25. ^ (in Spanish) Súmate: Las primarias se realizarán el 13 de agosto. El Universal (7 July 2006).
  26. ^ (in Spanish) Teodoro Petkoff: "No me inscribiré ni participaré en ese proceso." Archived 18 July 2006 at the Wayback Machine Globovision (7 July 2006).
  27. ^ (in Spanish) Froilán Barrios condenó expresiones de Petkoff. El Universal (7 July 2006).
  28. ^ Súmate announced primaries for August 13th. Archived 15 July 2006 at the Wayback Machine El Universal (8 July 2006).
  29. ^ Súmate: there will be no primary elections. Archived 1 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine El Universal (8 August 2006).
  30. ^ a b Castillo, Vivian. "We will know the truth when we have clean elections". Archived 25 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine El Universal (8 December 2006). Retrieved 10 December 2006.
  31. ^ Women the World Should Know. National Review Online (8 March 2006).
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