Today sees the start of the Recall Referendum signature drive, otherwise known as MUD versus the Unimaginable Weasel-Fucking Doom Demon (CNE, pa los panas). It’s a showdown so unbelievably lopsided that David and Goliath should both file injunctions for copyright infringement, and then sit together while weeping softly to Enya. Today’s signature drive will be but the first in what is sure to be a long string of bouts consisting basically of CNE kicking us in the balls and then expecting us to thank them.

The start doesn’t leave much room for hope. MUD was literally reduced to begging the CNE for a goddamned planilla, a simple, government-sanctioned form for collecting signatures. In a tip of the hat to ecosocialism, MUD will now have to photocopy this form as many times as it needs to in order to gather the autographs of 1% of registered voters in every Venezuelan state.  

Nevermind that, back in 2004, CNE actually printed those forms in our national Mint. Then again, back in 2004, Chávez wanted a referendum, and so the Lecherous Herpes Sore that is the CNE eventually complied.

So what’s the deal with this 1% in each state bullshit? I was wondering the same thing. Nowhere in Art. 72 of the Constitution, or in CNE’s 2007 Regulations for Petitioning for a Referendum will you find anything about 1% of registered voters having to “constitute a Group of Citizens (previously approved by the CNE), in order to request that the Electoral Power evaluate whether the requirements stated in Art. 72 of the Constitution are being met so that a signature-collecting drive may be organized.”

Why won’t you? Because the document that contains that key rule is in another CNE resolution – number 070906-2770, if you’re keeping score at home. Preciously, I can’t link to that one because it’s not online: it’s cloistered like some sort of mystical amulet, one that may only be consulted in person at CNE’s archives in downtown Caracas. It sounds like a joke, but it’s true.

The deliberate clusterfuck of misinformation only gets deeper. Just this week was MUD made aware of a tiny geographical caveat: CNE won’t be satisfied with us collecting 1% of signatures in general. That would be too simple. Instead we have to collect 1% of registered voters in every state.

Not complicated enough for you? Well, every single one of those signators must then personally turn up to validate their signature at their local CNE office, but only after CNE has pre-validated them. And we haven’t gotten to the good part yet: If any state fails to reach the minimum number of valid signatures corresponding to 1% of its registered voters, the entire process is null and void. As in, chao pescao.

 
CNE will microscopically scrutinize every comma, every tilde, every miserable ink molecule on each and every fiber of those sheets of paper.

To illustrate: 1% of the National Voter Registry is 197.978 signatures. 1% of registered voters in Yaracuy state is 4.249. Say we collect waaaay more than 197 thousand signatures nationwide, which are processed and given the CNE kiss of approval, but 74 signatures from Yaracuy state got thrown out because some overly enthusiastic activist decided to use a red marker instead of a black pen, leaving Yaracuy 74 signatures short of its 4.249 requirement. What happens then? What happens is none of this counts for jack shit.

How hard is it to screw up a signature planilla? Well, given that the hundreds of activists who will instruct voters on how to sign throughout 1500 points across Venezuela today were given their marching orders just yesterday….not all that hard.

CNE will microscopically scrutinize every comma, every tilde, every miserable ink molecule on each and every fiber of those sheets of paper. Which, by the way, have to be US Legal size. Try finding several reams of US Legal size paper in Tucupita on 12 hours notice. And then try to find the toner cartridges to photocopy them in time for today’s drive. No hay. Because there’s no toner. Because there are no dollars to import toner. Or anything else. Because the people CNE is trying to keep in office stole them. That’s why.

But I digress.  

If we take into account the fact that, of the 2,000 signatures collected to petition for the planilla (yes, we had to collect signatures for that too!), 4% were deemed invalid, then the statistical probability of every single aspect of this insane production going perfectly according to plan is…not great.

I know what you’re thinking: “Well then, MUD just has to overshoot its target and give itself a comfortable margin of error. Let’s collect two million signatures, and surely, 197 thousand of those MUST be valid.”

The Shit-Eating Spunk Bubble that is CNE has the MUD divided on this issue.

One side argues that we should collect as many signatures as humanly possible, since the bigger the sample, the less CNE can scrutinize each and every signature-disqualifying detail.

Others cite the totally foreseeable risk of CNE deciding that all two million people must now personally validate their signatures during the five-day validation period, which would be a logistical impossibility.

This second group wants a more pragmatic, surgical approach to signature collection, which favors party activists over regular citizens, figuring they can be mobilized more efficiently if need be. If this latter group wins, then today’s signing drive ends up being more of a symbolic act of strength: there’s always the risk that overly inflated expectations could backfire as every viejita in the neighborhood demands their signatures be counted, too.

Remember this is just the 1% phase.

Later on we’ll have to collect 20%. That’ll be the fun part.

Our discussion of the Soulless Excrement Puddle that is CNE would not be complete without mentioning that the signature validation process – the one you have to show up for in person – relies on fingerprint scanners. Which run on electricity. You know electricity, right? It’s that stuff we’re in short supply of these days. Which is why government offices will only open two days a week.

Will CNE show some restraint and settle on calendar days rather than the pink unicorns known as days-when-Venezuelan-public-employees-actually-work? We’re not sure yet. Given their track record, I wouldn’t bet on it. It’s a sad state of affairs when your political debate centers on the question of “what constitutes a holiday”…though, admittedly, that is one step up from “when will I get my fucking planilla”.

The good news is that yesterday’s emission of the planilla officially starts the clock on referendum timetable. CNE is now bound by a schedule of events that it will surely try to delay as much as possible.

While it is true that CNE determines the pace of this process to some degree, once the process starts the opposition has some ability to influence the clock. For example: the 1% signature collection process officially runs for 30 days. But MUD is shooting for delivering all signatures by Monday. If MUD is aggressive in its efforts to manage the clock, we may just have a chance at forcing a vote before January 10th, 2017.

And that’s the prize we have to keep our eye on. The process may be almost parodically unfair – in fact, it plainly is. But if we keep up the pressure, we could – just could – be rid of Maduro peacefully, legally and constitutionally within a mere eight months.

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Emi is a cook, a lover of animals, politics, expletives, and Venezuela. She is the co-founder of Caracas Chronicles LLC and Managing Editor if the site until December 2017.