2004: The Year of the Recall

Your yearly briefing for 2004. Translated by Javier Liendo.

Photo: Telesur

The signatures, a mere prerequisite to request the presidential recall referendum, became an electoral battle; starring, first and foremost, the authorities of the National Electoral Council (CNE). Three against two, was the formula for all of the institution’s decisions, with three MVR authorities: Carrasquero, Rodríguez and Battaglini imposing their view on Zamora and Mejías. The mediation offered by the Carter Center and the OAS was completely dismissed by MVR, achieving its main goal: it would cost the CNE its credibility. The three officials pooled all their creativity to impose obstacles: writing strict or untimely rules, excluding the participation of Venezuelans abroad; disrespecting the established timetables … Chávez even moved his domicile to La Pastora in order to vote against lawmaker Ernesto Alvarenga.

Let’s talk about signatures

Technically 2,453,179 signatures were needed to activate the presidential recall referendum. It took long enough to decide how to collect them, under which rules and how they’d be processed. Out of the total signatures collected in opposition campaigns, Súmate validated 3,467,050 signatures before submitting them to the CNE. Almost a month after the set date, in an interview with BBC, the head of CNE revealed the results of the verification process and stated that out of the 3,086,013 processed signatures, only 1,832,493 were valid. Among the rejected signatures, the repair option was open for the 876,017 signatures in “planillas planas” (the forms that had the same writing and information but different signatures and fingerprints) and 233,573 that didn’t comply with the rules. Disregarding any notion of presumption of innocence, the CNE convened electors to repair 1,109,590 signatures. To reach the minimum required to activate the recall, it was necessary to repair 55.84% of that amount. Sysyphus pushed the rock up the hill over and over again.

Judicial Branch

On March 15, the TSJ’s Electoral Chamber issued a historic ruling, ordering the CNE to consider the signatures sent to be repaired as valid. The board of the National Assembly condemned the ruling. The CNE requested the Constitutional Chamber to review the ruling, while MVR lawmakers promised to accuse the three Electoral Chamber justices for the crime of rebellion. In his 185th Aló Presidente, Chávez discredited the justices. Shortly after that, Constitutional Chamber justice Iván Rincón announced that the Electoral Chamber ruling was void. Signatures were repaired in late April. The process would originally take five days, but the CNE reduced it to two. In any case, the opposition managed to get the necessary amount to activate the referendum. The CNE scheduled it for August 15th, quite close to the date where it would’ve been unconstitutional to hold new presidential elections.

More problems

The recall’s timetable was delayed and ended up in the midst of regional elections, a natural point of friction between Democratic Coordinator parties. Additionally, there were issues with how the question was written, with the location of the options “Yes” and “No” on the ballot; with the permanent electoral registry, voters were moved from their voting stations and there were untimely nationalizations. Inspections were deemed insufficient and late, and Jorge Rodríguez was accused of replacing electoral witnesses with his own people. He merely argued that people just “didn’t attend training sessions.”

The day arrived

The results predicted by polls looked more polarized than the population itself, but nothing in the actions of the CNE or the Executive Branch showed the prospect of an eventual defeat for Chávez. The day of the referendum, there were delays in the installation of voting stations and the captahuellas were perfect bottlenecks, so there were long lines of voters all day. International observation was prevented from monitoring various phases of the process. Some voting stations even closed at midnight. Early next morning, the head of CNE announced Chávez as the winner with an “irreversible trend”. He got 59.1% of votes in favor, with a 69% voter turnout. The Carter Center and the OAS backed the results. The National Assembly held a special session to ratify Chávez and lawmaker Nicolás Maduro requested three more years in office for him. So cute!

The most wanted mayor

The 47th court of control under judge José Ramón Flores, issued an arrest warrant against Baruta mayor Henrique Capriles Radonski for “events that took place at the Cuban embassy in 2002.” Since his lawyers couldn’t access the file, Capriles went into hiding until a higher court suspended the arrest warrant. Prosecutor Danilo Anderson later arrested Capriles with a warrant issued by an alternate judge and he was taken to DISIP headquarters. When the judge in charge of his case was arrested, he was released under a reporting regime, every 15 days. He was barred from leaving the country or issue any statements about his case.

Other events

Chávez asked BCV for “un millardito de dólares” from international reserves for farmers. Despite strong criticism, the BCV gave him Bs. 900 billion, as alleged foreign exchange commissions, and Chávez promised to use them to: finance public spending! The Venezuelan Institute of Social Security (IVSS) was militarized, which included changes in its board, while statues of Virgin Mary were beheaded in various churches in the country and a statue of Christopher Columbus in Plaza Venezuela was brought down. It’s hard to forget the fire in Parque Central’s eastern tower (from the 34th floor to the roof). Firefighters couldn’t go further than the 40th floor because security systems were out of order. The TSJ’s Constitutional Chamber established the judicial validity of the framework laws approved by a simple majority in the AN. The law was approved with chavista votes only, and it would later suffer 30 amendments: broadening the Constitutional Chamber’s authority and stripping functions from the Electoral and Plenary Chambers. The nominations committee for new TSJ members was filled with government lackeys.

The fraud

The defeat in the referendum left the Democratic Coordinator in tatters, forcing its spokespeople to step aside while mayoral and gubernatorial candidates took their place, without defining particular leaderships. Arias Cárdenas’ campaign as a “rational dissident” was memorable. Frictions within MVR weren’t a small matter either, the imposition of candidates was not accepted meekly. The fraud as a banner paved the way for considerable abstention. The opposition only won in Zulia and Nueva Esparta. The victories of Capriles Radonski (free at last) in Baruta and Leopoldo López in Chacao were iconic.

A bomb, a life

Prosecutor Danilo Anderson was killed in Los Chaguaramos on November 18. His car blew up with C4 explosive. At the time of his death he was investigating the events of April 11, 2002.

Photo: EFE, retrieved

Prosecutor general Isaías Rodríguez and the CICPC reported that the masterminds behind the murder were two former agents from the Judicial Police (PTJ) and DISIP respectively, brothers Otoniel and Rolando Guevara, who were arrested and charged with first degree murder, for which they’re serving a 27-year prison sentence. Juan Bautista Guevara, their cousin, was also involved and sentenced to 30 years in prison. According to the CICPC, they were allegedly paid $600,000 for the murder.


The Finance Ministry established the new rate for the dollar at Bs. 1,920. CADIVI allowed the use of credit cards abroad for up to $2,000 per year. Venezuela became a member of Mercosur. The GDP rose to 17.9%, the inflation rate was 19.2% and the unemployment rate was 13.9%. The country had $24.2 billion in international reserves.

Naky Soto

Naky gets called Naibet at home and at the bank. She coordinates training programs for an NGO. She collects moments and turns them into words. She has more stories than freckles.