Venezuela’s ‘Cubanochavista’ electoral machine

As the facts behind Nicolás Maduro’s fabricated electoral “victory” on April 14 are disclosed, his legitimacy and ability to govern will be decimated. Reams of confidential official documents obtained from Venezuelan sources reveal the existence of a sophisticated political machine — developed and managed by Cuban advisors — that gives Chavista party bosses an unfair advantage in mobilizing their voters and manipulating election results.

This complex system was created in the last several years under the direction of Cuban advisors, working with Cuban-trained Venezuelan hard-liners associated with the “Francisco de Miranda Front,” and micromanaged by a database operated in Pinar del Rio, Cuba. The Cuban electoral team is headed by Raciel García Ceballos, who visits Venezuela on a weekly basis. Here’s how the Cuban-engineered system works:

Using official data that is provided exclusively to the Chavista party by the National Electoral Council (CNE), a database has been developed that cross references the list of 18.9 million eligible Venezuelan voters with the more than 10 million Venezuelans who depend on the government for jobs, housing, food, healthcare, etc., through one of its many social programs.

The data were sorted to identify the hard-core Chavista base (about 5.2 million voters) and those whose loyalty depends on government handouts (about 2.7 million). The latter group is targeted by the Chavista mobilization team, which can tap the database to find out where each person lives, works, and votes. Working in collusion with the CNE, the Chavista machine also has identified about 3,400 of the country’s 13,000 polling stations where they concentrate their voter mobilization efforts. The CNE assigns well-trained members of the Miranda Front to serve, not as observers but as election officials, to run the voting process in these target centers.

Even before the first votes were cast on April 14, the Chavista electoral authorities began suppressing turnout by arbitrarily reassigning residents in opposition strongholds to voting centers far from their homes; estimates are that about 1.2 million voters were impacted by this tactic in October 2012.

Throughout election day, thousands of well-trained Chavista operatives track and report voter turnout via text messages — giving party leaders the data they need to assess whether they are delivering their base to the polls and in which precincts they are underperforming. (This network also lets the Chavista team know which voting stations are unattended by opposition observers.)

If a specific precinct is falling short of expected Chavista supporters, the command center — relying on a computer server dubbed “Roque 2” — generates detailed contact information for those targeted voters who have yet to appear at their polling station. The absent voter is contacted by telephone, and government or military vehicles are dispatched to his or her home or workplace to transport them to their polling place.

On April 14, everything was in place to ensure a Chavista electoral victory just as it did last October. However, that machinery could not compensate for Maduro’s failure to motivate his party’s base. Instead, the system detected an impending defeat in time for the Chavista authorities to tamper with the vote primarily in polling places where they knew opposition monitors were absent..

It is telling that since the night of the election the CNE has stripped all precinct-level reporting from its website. However, the opposition’s monitors collected tally sheets from at least 60 percent of the voting centers, including some that show a 15-30 percent drop in turnout in Chavista bastions since last October’s election. Reports that opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski won in some of the poorest neighborhoods of the country suggest that Maduro was defeated soundly.

The CNE was quick to reject Capriles Radonski’s demand that the paper ballots be counted. Uniformed military began to burn election materials and to shoot and bludgeon peaceful protesters. The president of the National Assembly silenced opposition members and rushed to swear in Maduro.

In the days after the vote, Capriles Radonski abruptly cancelled an opposition rally because he was told that the Chavistas would sow agent provocateurs to incite confrontations as a pretext for repression.

Building on a strong campaign performance, Capriles Radonski’s cool-headed management of the post-election crisis contrasts sharply with Maduro’s polarizing rhetoric and violent repression. As evidence of fraud and Cuban interference is made public, Maduro’s illegitimacy and incompetence may make it impossible for him to manage the country’s myriad economic and security problems.

Even Chavistas — many of whom already are offended by Havana’s heavy-handed role in managing the post-Chávez succession — may look to Capriles Radonski as the man Venezuelans chose to save the country.

Roger F. Noriega, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, served as assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs and as ambassador to the Organization of American States in the administration of President George W. Bush.

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