Over at Caracas Chronicles, fellow blogger Francisco Toro asked readers to collaborate in an ambitious project, that of producing an electoral map of Venezuela, parish by parish. The result is an outstanding piece of kit, developed by Dorothy Kronick, Christian Font and Javier Rodriguez Rivas, that allows users to check/track electoral results in Chavez's Venezuela, since 1998 to date.
The issue of electoral fraud has been a hot topic of debate among Venezuelans since the recall referendum of 15 August 2004, when after years of negotiations between chavista officials, opposition leaders and international power brokers from the Organization of American States (OAS) and Jimmy Carter's Center, Venezuelan electoral authorities controlled by Chavez announced that he had won the referendum. It remains a fact, to this date, that many of the points agreed by all parties were simply violated by chavista electoral authorities. Chief of which former OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria denying, in a press conference on 16 August, Jimmy Carter's statement to the effect that international observers had witnessed the tallying of the votes, at the electoral council's headquarter in Caracas. Matter of fact is, only Jorge Rodriguez and his chavista staff witnessed the count, which ended in a 'resounding victory' for Chavez, of nearly 20% more votes. Subsequent audits were a sham, as Carter Center's no. 2 Jennifer McCoy admitted to me in email exchanges.
Since, Chavez put out a very aggressive propaganda campaign, to cement the notion that he had a legitimate popular mandate to, pretty much, do with Venezuela whatever he pleased, which is what he has been doing. The issue didn't die there, of course. Teams of highly reputed Venezuelan academics started conducting all sort of thorough statistical research, to demonstrate the improbability of Chavez's referendum victory. Some of their work has been published in peer-reviewed statistical journals of international renown. Then, another group of Venezuelans founded something called ESDATA, and have been documenting meticulously the different aspects of the chavista fraud.
In Venezuela, we've all developed opinions about this, and there are two well defined camps: on the one hand chavistas, deniers, and, what I would call, opposition collaborationists -which are all of those pretending that elections are kosher. On the other hand, those of us who aren't convinced of electoral results, simply because the amount of evidence against it, and the fact that no election has been subjected to meaningful scrutiny since 2004, makes it impossible to take Chavez's electoral minions at face value. Any person seeing the balance of pro and anti Chavez officials in Venezuela's National Electoral Council, their 'career progressions' within chavismo upon departing the electoral council, the way in which important decisions have been handled, how the State's resources are fully behind Chavez and against the opposition, how the electoral roll has been inflated out of all sensible proportion, observing the total absence of independent and meaningful scrutiny during tallying, and exercising a modicum of critical thinking, would conclude that elections in Venezuela are a farce.
Francisco Toro belongs in the deniers camp. In his opinion, there's no evidence of electoral fraud in Venezuela, despite being totally aware of, and having written about, massive gerrymandering, disproportional representation, and State's resources misuse in favour of Chavez. He contends that artificial and inexplicable inflation of electoral roll has to do with "well oiled registration drives" and population's "ageing" factors. But when one uses the tool he asked his collaborators to produce, one can see examples, such as that of Unare parish, in Bolivar state, where the number of registered voters went from 26,087 in 1998 to 73,634 in 2009. That's a 282% increase. Another example, in Francisco Aniseto Lugo parish, in Delta Amacuro state, whose electoral roll has increased 525%, Chavez maintains an almost perfect score, sometimes getting 100% of the votes.
To any critical observer, this is enough evidence of electoral rigging on a massive scale. Where no opposition collaborationist is present during voting, generally the case in rural Venezuela, Chavez gets inexplicable percentages. Inadvertently, Francisco Toro may just have rendered forever void the "there's-no-evidence-of-fraud-in-Venezuela" hypothesis of chavistas, deniers and collaborationists alike. For that, and for the fantastic tool, we should all be extremely grateful.