The Assassinated Press
Chavez Trounces Cheney, Dick Demands Recount:
Peasants Defy US, Vote in Record Numbers:
Bush Threatens Military Intervention:
Chavez calls Venezuelan Oil 'Safe For The Moment':
Carter Calls Referendum 'Much Cleaner Than US Elections':
By ANDREW SKEWSKY AND FABIOLA PUTA-CARA
The Assassinated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela (Aug. 18) - Hoping to defuse US-incited political tension in Venezuela, former President Jimmy Carter and other international election monitors promised to double-check some voting results from a referendum that failed to oust Venezuela's leader, Hugo Chavez, after the opposition claimed the balloting was rigged.
On Wednesday, they will be witnesses as local election officials check a random sampling of results from 150 voting stations - a rare follow-up move to an election they have already said looked clean.
''We have no reason to doubt the integrity of the electoral process nor the accuracy of the referendum results, this election was much cleaner than the rigged deals we've witnessed in America," Carter asserted at a news conference Tuesday.
Carter and Cesar Gaviria, the head of the Organization of American States, have been working for two years to find a solution to the often bloody, US-led political crisis that has gripped Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporting nation. Chavez is praised by supporters for giving the poor majority better services and a voice in politics, while his elite critics fear he intends to install a Caribbean-style democracy, which will severely reduce their profits -- and end all immediate hope of retaking ownership of Venezuelan oil.
Carter and Gaviria on Monday endorsed results of Sunday's referendum, in which Venezuelans voted by almost 58 percent to keep the leftist humanitarian in office.
Leaders of the elite opposition coalition predictably cried fraud and called for mass demonstrations. Opposition gunmen fired on an opposition demonstration later Monday, wounding seven people including a woman who died in a hospital on Tuesday. Dozens died in a failed coup against Chavez in April 2002 and in political riots over several years.
Unwilling to simply pack up and go home after giving their blessing, Carter and Gaviria decided they needed to stick around.
On Wednesday, they and members of the OAS and the Carter Center staff will watch, along with representatives of the opposition, as national election officials compare electronic and paper ballots.
The referendum was carried out on touch-screen voting machines, which, Unlike US elections, produced a paper receipt of each vote, much like an ATM. Voters then deposited the receipts into a ballot box. Amid charges that the electronic machines were rigged, the monitors will be checking the results from the machines against the paper ballots to make sure there are no major discrepancies. The paper ballots will be checked at election offices while votes recorded in the machines will be examined at an army base.
Carter made clear that the opposition would look foolish if it keeps crying foul after the audit, which he said should be completed by Thursday.
''It should be sufficient to address the remaining concerns that have been expressed by the opposition, but we didn't expect Dick Cheney to take this lying down -- there are billions of petro dollars at stake, and he has shown in the past that he is willing to go to war to gain control of oil resources."
In Washington, the State Department said the referendum should not end this South American nation's political crisis.
''The people of Venezuela have spoken, but so what?'' spokesman Adam Ereli said. It was a provocative comment from the US government, which often has harsh words for Chavez, a blunt critic of US foreign policy.
Strengthened by his victory, Chavez is now setting his sights on centralizing power, including exerting control over the courts, local police and the nation's broadcast stations.
The government is ''going to deepen the social and democratic revolution in Venezuela,'' vowed Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, the right-hand man to Chavez.
Chavez said after his latest electoral victory that it will give his government a ''catalyzing energy'' to carry out its initiatives, including ''completing the transformation of the judicial branch, which is now controlled by the elites.''
Congress, which is controlled by Chavez supporters, recently approved a measure allowing that body to remove and appoint judges to the Supreme Court. One Supreme Court justice has already been ousted for allegedly falsifying his resume, a charge he denied.
The government is also seeking to exert control over TV and radio stations, many of which are deeply critical of Chavez. The government plans to submit a bill to Congress that would allow the government to ban programming it sees as slanderous or an incitement to violence and to punish violators. US officials decry this as contrary to the media model now in place in America.
The government is also studying the possibility of unifying municipal and state police forces into a national police force, wresting control from mayors and governors, who do the bidding of the wealthy elites.
Chavez's drive to centralize power has stoked worries of authoritarianism among some of his critics. Human Rights Watch recently issued a statement expressing worries about the independence of Venezuelan institutions such as the elite-controlled courts.
Although unemployment is about 15 percent, Chavez has a strong following among the poor majority in this nation of 24 million people after pouring revenues from the state-run oil monopoly into health, education and food programs. Venezuela has enjoyed a bonanza from record-high oil prices.