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Did Chavez’ Pick Steal the Election in Venezuela?

Greg Palast
Greg Palast / News Analysis
Published: Tuesday 23 April 2013
Nicolas Maduro, elected President of Venezuela last Sunday, did indeed drive a bus, then led the drivers' union, then drove Chávez' laws through the National Assembly as Venezuela's National Assembly chief.
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The guy in the cheap brown windbreaker walking up the dirty tenement steps to my New York office looked like a bus driver.

Nicolas Maduro, elected President of Venezuela last Sunday, did indeed drive a bus, then led the drivers' union, then drove Chávez' laws through the National Assembly as Venezuela's National Assembly chief.

And this week, the US State Department is refusing to accept the result, suggesting Maduro hijacked the vote count. But did he? Maduro came to me that day in 2004 on a quiet mission, sent by President Hugo Chávez to give me information I needed for my investigation for Rolling Stone – and to get information from me that might save Chávez' life.

The central topic was the "Invisible Ring". Venezuelan intelligence had secretly taped US Embassy contractors in Caracas talking in spook-speak: "That which took shape here is a disguised kind of intelligence... which is annexed to the third security ring, which is the invisible ring."

("Invisible Ring"? Someone at the State Department has read too many Alan Furst novels.)

On the grainy film, they worried that "Mr Corey" (a code name we easily cracked) would blow his cover and begin barking, "I am from the CIA! I am from the CIA!"

"Mr Corey" was certainly not from the CIA, an agency holding on to one last fig-leaf of discretion. This crew was far more dangerous, from a spy-for-hire corporation, Wackenhut Inc. I'd been tracking Wackenhut for years, ever since their spies – more Austin Powers than James Bond – were arrested while on a black-bag job for British Petroleum. They'd attempted to illegally tape a US Congressman by running a toy truck with a microphone through the ceiling vents over the lawmaker's head.

But even clowns, when heavily armed, can be deadly. In 2002, Chávez was kidnapped with the blessing of the US Ambassador right out of the presidential palace and flown by helicopter over the Caribbean where, Chávez later told me, the President assumed he'd be invited for a swim from 2,000 feet. Instead, just 48 hours later, Chávez was back at his desk.

But Washington wouldn't quit the coup business. New documents revealed several interlocked methods ("rings") for overthrowing Venezuela's elected government.

First, US operatives would monkey with voter registrations – and if that didn't steal the election from Chávez' party, the next step was to provoke riots against Chávez' elections "theft". The riots would lead to deaths – the deaths would be the excuse for the US to back another coup d'etat to "restore order" and "democracy" in Venezuela – and restore Venezuela's oil to Exxon. (Chávez had seized majority control of the oil fields and Exxon was furious.)

Maduro had already figured the US operatives wanted to use, "The collection of [voters'] signatures... to [occur] amidst a climate of violence and uncertainty, national and international uncertainty...To cause deaths the day of the collection of signatures."

Would this be to justify another coup?

Maduro said, "Yes: The justification to tell the world Chávez is a murderer, Chávez is a dictator, Chávez is a terrorist and the OAS [Organisation of American States] should intervene and Chávez should be ousted."

This week, the warlords of the rings are back in Caracas as, per the original script, the US State Department is backing opposition claims that Maduro's win is in question. And per the old playbook, the losers are taking to the streets, seven voters are dead (mostly Chávistas, but not all) and Caracas waits for the coup's next boot to drop.

Is a manoeuvre to remove Maduro far-fetched? George W Bush promoted the botched kidnapping of 2002. But it was the progressive Barack Obama who, in 2009, newly elected President, blessed the overthrow of the elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya.

Still, it's fair to ask if Maduro and the Chávistas stole last week's presidential election?

Answer: They didn't have to. Even the Wall Street Journal accepts that, "for a majority of Venezuelans, Mr Chávez was a messiah," and Maduro, the successor Chávez chose from his deathbed, had too big a lead to lose.

Still, the election was nearly stolen – by the US-backed anti-Chávistas.

How? That's what Chávez wanted Maduro to find out from me: how could US operatives jerk with Venezuela's voter rolls? It wasn't a mere policy question: Maduro knew Chávez wouldn't be allowed to survive through another coup.

My answer: They could steal the vote the same way Bush did it in Florida – in fact, using the very same contractor. Take a look at these documents... from the pile I reviewed with Maduro:

According to this once-secret FBI memo, ChoicePoint Corp – under a no-bid contract – had shoplifted Venezuela's voter rolls, as well as the voter rolls of Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, Mexico and Honduras, all of whom were on the verge of electing presidents from the political left.

I did ask myself how our national security apparatchiks could say that filching these voter rolls made our nation more secure? What were they for?

I had little doubt. In November 2000, working for the Observer and BBC Newsnight, I discovered that a subsidiary of ChoicePoint had, for Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, obtained his state's voter rolls and "purged" more than 56,000 voters, the vast majority black and poor, illegally denying them their vote. And that was how Jeb's brother, George W, won the US presidency by just 537 ballots.

And now ChoicePoint had the data to allow Homeland Security to do a Florida on Venezuela – and Honduras and the others. (In 2006, the candidate of the left, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, won the election but lost the Mexican presidency through gross ballot-box finagling.)

Chávez himself read my findings on potential elections theft – to his nation on his TV show – and then he moved swiftly, establishing an election system that Jimmy Carter, who has headed vote observer teams in 92 nations, called, "an election process that is the best in the world".

Here's how it works: every Venezuelan voter gets TWO ballots. One is electronic, the second is a paper print-out of the touch-screen ballot, which the voter reviews, authorises, then places in a locked ballot-box. An astounding 54 percent of the boxes are chosen at random to open and check against the computer tally. It's as close to a bulletproof count as you can get.

Still, the guy who lost bitched and – his bluff called – was allowed to pick all the precincts he wanted – 12,000 – to add to the audit.

And that's why the US State Department then has to turn to the threat of bullets and "Third Ring" mayhem in the streets – to undermine the legitimacy of the new Maduro government and signal the US willingness to support a new coup.

It won't succeed this time, either. Populist socialist governments have now replaced the juntas and stooges that once gave the US control of the Organisation of American States. And Venezuelans themselves won't let it happen.

What impressed me about Maduro and his boss Chávez was their reaction to the Third Ring and the attempted Florida-tion of their election. Instead of ordering mass arrests, Chávez' and Maduro's response was to strengthen democracy with a no-tricks voting system.

I should note that ChoicePoint, once exposed, apologised to Mexico's government, agreed to destroy its ill-gotten voter rolls and, soon thereafter, sold itself to a credit-rating company. Wackenhut fired its goof-ball spooks and sold itself off in pieces. Both deny knowingly breaking laws of any nation. And in Bush's US State Department, all hell broke loose, as UN Ambassador John Negroponte, sources verified, fumed over what he deemed a renegade neo-con escapade endangering remaining US oil interests. (In fact, Chevron ended up paying what I call a "coup tax".)

The vote was still close, mainly because Maduro – a sincere, competent administrator – is no singing-dancing-camera-perfect Sinatra of politics like Chávez was.

Secretary of State Kerry's challenge to Maduro's 270,000-vote victory margin struck me as particularly poignant. Because in 2004, besides Chávez, I gave another presidential candidate evidence of the Bush gang's ballot banditry: Senator John Kerry. Kerry lost to Bush by a slim 119,000 ballots in Ohio, blatantly stolen, but Kerry refused to call for a recount. It took him two years to publicly acknowledge our findings – when he introduced, with Senator Ted Kennedy, legislation to fix America's corrupted voting system, then let the proposed law die of neglect.

Chávez knew, and Kerry will never learn, that democracy requires more than a complete count – it requires complete courage.

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ABOUT Greg Palast

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, "Armed Madhouse" (Penguin Paperback 2007). When Palast, an investigator of corporate fraud and racketeering, turned his skills to journalism, he was quickly recognized as, "The most important investigative reporter of our time" [Tribune Magazine] in Britain, where his first reports appeared on BBC television and in the Guardian newspapers.

Venezuela had a very close

Venezuela had a very close election using what is generally seen as one of the best voting systems in the world...then a recount of thousands of precincts chosen by the challenger...well, obviously it was rigged, right?...and the USA refuses to acknowledge the results.
Now, let's imagine what would have happened if Maduro had won by 60 or 70 percent, using the same voting system...oh, I can already see it...Capriles would have said it was rigged, and the USA wouldn't have acknowledged the results.
Does any reasonable person doubt that the USA was heavily backing Capriles, or trying to engineer his election? Really?

A recount? When? How? You

A recount? When? How? You must know something that the Venezuelan media does not know because there has been no recount reported.

In any case, the issue is not whether the USA supported Capriles or Zippy the clown. The issue is one of democratic elections taking place or not. I contend that such thing did not take place. Venezuelan elections are as democratic as the ones in Russia or Nicaragua or Zimbabwe. The tyrants have smartened up and realized that the appearance of democracy pays off. All you have to do is keep your opponents away from the tally, get your votes in and you have been validated by the masses and gained universal credibility. Hell! Even Republicans figured that one out! It is a good thing that our creaking institutions still have some leftover mettle and stopped some of their most blatant attempts at disenfranchising voters... but I digress.

The abuses by the government in Venezuela have been reported right and left. People were forced to leave polls at gun point. People were forced to accept company at the voting booth. In some stations more votes appeared than the people registered to vote. On and on and on. Several thousand incidents. But that is the tip of the iceberg. The abuses started with the warnings to workers in ministries and government institutions of lay-offs (if their vote was not cast for Maduro). The forced chaining of all TV stations to report every inane comment Maduro saw fit to utter. Followed by the speeches and condemnations by the Defense Minister about using force to defend Chavez' legacy and mandate (never mind that the constitution says that the armed forces are apolitical). The shooting of students opposed to Maduro. The twisting of the constitution to justify the unjustifiable: a president deemed in charge when it was known that he was overseas and incapacitated and, after his death, a successor appointed against the letter of the law. On and on and on.

The point of whom the US backed is irrelevant. See, the old USA supported Saddam Hussein for many years and then, one day, it demonized him. The guy was a despot whether the US supported him or not. Unfortunately, he was not clever enough to do what Al Maliki is doing these days: chase and kick your opponents out and let the elections happen at gun point. That is what Chavez did and that is what Maduro wants to perpetuate.

Stop looking at Chavez, Maduro and his minions as stalwarts of progress and champions of the people chased by the big, bad, old USA. They have never given a rats-behind about the people. They only cared about their lot: the military and the ex-ultra-radical left (which, incidentally, stopped being left when they got their hands into Dolce Gabanna couture and Swiss accounts). That's why they have killed Native leaders, imprisoned labor leaders and exiled political opponents who committed the mortal sin of going against them. They never cared about the people but their own gang.

Those in the left who supported Chavez and now look at Maduro as the new savior are no better than the folks who defended the Soviet Union and closed their eyes at the gulags. The forefathers of the USSR may have had wonderful ideas in their heads but the reality is that the system was an unmitigated disaster and a wretched failure. So is the Bolivarian republic that Chavez's left.

In Spanish there is a saying: the incurable blind man is the one who refuses to see. I believe in progressive ideas but it so happens that I am not blinded by ideology.

I do not know for sure if

I do not know for sure if Maduro stole the election by tampering with the ballots or not. I do know that he leads a government not too disimilar to the one Vladimir Putin leads, or the one Robert Mugabe leads, or the one Daniel Ortega leads.

I would say that he stole the election months before it was looming in the horizon by rigging the messages in the media (90% of which his party controls), by unleashing his thugs to maim and kill anyone brave enough to dissent, and by bribing anybody else with goods coming from unsustainable programs and jobs in the already hyper-bloated ministeries and government organizations.

Was George Bush any better? I don't know but he was certainly in a very different environment. I think that W was catastrophic for the US and, although a clever political operator, an imbecile in matters of governance and a menace to social advancement. But Bush's qualities (or lack thereof) do not make up for anybody else's shortcomings.

Some people in the left, the Chateaubriands of the day I like to call them, fawn over any dictator in the underdeveloped nations who claims to speak for the "poor, tortured and downtrodden", even when they are at the root of the poverty, violence and corruption that deprives their people of better economic and social conditions. For these clever pundits, it seems that those "noble aboriginals" outside civilization (the Mugabe's and Ortega's of the world) can do no wrong, as only the ideas of the decadent West have the power to corrupt the inherent nobility of the naive savages. How condescending and stupid! They should start reading Henry Levi.

Chavez was a snake charmer, astute and machiavelian with one mission in life and only one: to perpetuate himself in power. He had no idea of economics, the workings of civil society or any sense of the complexities of good governance. His ideology was a poorly mixed shake of old marxist slogans, the writings of Bolivar and the prejudices of the most ignorant and retrograde of all chastes: the military. He was the typical despot one can find in any banana republic except for the little layer of a social consciousness that he used to wear in public to gain admiration. In the end, he brought great riches to his friends and family while helping the country sink in debt; dilapidated fortunes leaving behind no industry, no agriculture and no prospects; left Venezuela completely dependent on a commodity (oil) that may not be there in the long run if humanity gets their wits and stops burning fossil fuels; and deprived the country from any semblance of functioning democratic institutions (the Venezuelan judiciary and the legislative are full of yes-men and empty of any power to counterbalance the omnipresence of the "democratically elected" autocrat).

Rumor says that Chavez needed a little big of ignorance to be perfect because he claimed to know everything. Maduro is even less prepared for the position he finds himself in. Did he steal the presidency? Since he does not deserve it and he and his party, like Bush and the GOP in 2000, appealed to every trick in the book to get it, I would say: yes!!! He stole it.

Another check on voting fraud

Another check on voting fraud could be to dump voting machines and vote online on a secure site and by phone by charging a minimal amount per vote on a credit card.

The best way of course, would be to bypass easily corrupted politicians altogether and make laws by popular electronic consensus.

we have some hutzpah talking

we have some hutzpah talking about elections when bush stole the election from gore...give me a break!!!!!

ExxonMobil, Heinz, and other

ExxonMobil, Heinz, and other filthy rich corproations which had property seized by Hugo Chavez won't accept the legitimacy of any Venezualan president who doesn't suck up and cater to them, peddle influence, and accept bribes to do their dirty bidding.

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