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Sumate (Spanish for "Join Up") is a Venezuelan volunteer civil association founded in 2002 by Maria Corina Machado and Alejandro Plaz. Sumate describes itself as a vote-monitoring group; Rice calls Venezuela a big problem for Western Hemisphere. The Star, 17 February 2006. it has also been described as an election-monitoring group.Diehl, Jackson. In Venezuela, Locking Up the Vote. Washington Post, reprinted by Hispanic American Center.
Mission and values
Sumate is a non-governmental organization (NGO) whose stated aim is to promote the free exercise of citizen's political rights, and the discussion of matters of public interest. The group's mission is to promote, defend, facilitate, and back the political rights accorded to citizens by the Constitution of Venezuela.
''Sumate'sespoused values are:
The guarantee of civil and political freedom and rights
Impartial and independent citizen participation in democratic processes
Professional volunteerism with a high level of citizen participation
Organizational transparency and efficacy
Other projects are the consolidation of a national network of volunteers; analysis of voter registration; planning and execution of parallel vote counts to strengthen confidence in electoral processes; and educational programs.
Hugo Chavez was elected President of Venezuela in 1998. Participation was 64%, with 36% of the electorate abstaining, resulting in a Chavez victory with 35% of the total electorate. In 1999 a new Constitution of Venezuela was approved, making Chavez eligible to run for president again in 2000, for a six-year term; and again in 2006, for another six years. This could result in a Chavez presidency of 14 years, compared to the previous presidential term limit of five years. He won the 2000 election with 60% of the votes cast, 33% of the total electorate, and 44% abstention.
These changes were made to the Constitution and electoral processes based on elections with an overwhelmingly support for Chavez but unprecedented voter abstention Venezuela risk: Political stability risk. EconomistIntelligence Unit (25 July 2007). Retrieved 2 August 2007.a "poor showing"Serge F. Kovaleski. Venezuelan Voters Make President More Powerful; The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: 16 December 1999. pg. A.30 with most staying away from the polls.Gutkin, Steven. Venezuelans back revising constitution. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel(26 April 1999). Retrieved 2 August 2007.Serge F. Kovaleski. Venezuelans Approve Plan For Assembly; Vote Favors Chavez Wish To Rewrite Constitution; The Washington Post.'' Washington, D.C.: 26 April 1999. pg. A.11 "But the turnout today was a sharp contrast to the presidential election on 6 December when 65 percent of the country's registered voters cast ballots. In the capital, Caracas, where there were no reports of violence or voting irregularities, only short lines were seen at many balloting stations, where voters could pick 'yes' or 'no' on whether a constituent assembly was needed and on proposed guidelines for the election of its members."
Sumate was founded with an expressed goal of achieving a high level of citizen participation in Venezuelan elections. According to The Washington Post, Machado and Plaz had a hurried encounter in a hotel lobby in 2001, where they shared their concern about the course that was being shaped for Venezuela. Machado said, "Something clicked. I had this unsettling feeling that I could not stay at home and watch the country get polarized and collapse.... We had to keep the electoral process but change the course, to give Venezuelans the chance to count ourselves, to dissipate tensions before they built up. It was a choice of ballots over bullets."
According to Sumate, it is "not concerned with who governs but rather that those in power respect the rule of law."O'Grady, Mary A. A Young Defender of Democracy Faces Chavez's Wrath. Wall Street Journal. 10 June 2005; Page A9.
Sumate was originally composed of a group of professionals, but now has grown to include 30,000 volunteers from across Venezuela and all walks of life.
Recall referendum, 2004
In 2003, Sumate organized a campaign to force a recall referendum revoking the remainder of the term in office of President Chavez, as provided for under Article 72 of the Constitution of Venezuela, which permits citizens to request a recall if signatures are collected from 20% of the electorate.
The recall vote was held on 15 August 2004. A record number of voters turned out but the recall was defeated with a 59% "no" vote.BBC News. . "Venezuelan Audit Confirms Victory". Retrieved 5 November 2005. The Carter Center concluded the results were accurate, but European Union observers did not oversee the referendum, saying too many restrictions were put on their participation by the government.de Cordoba, Jose and Luhnow, David. "Venezuelans Rush to Vote on Chavez: Polarized Nation Decides Whether to Recall President After Years of Political Rifts". Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, NY: 16 August 2004. pg. A11.
A Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB) exit poll predicted that Chavez would lose by 20%, whereas the election results showed him to have won by 20%. Schoen commented, "I think it was a massive fraud".Barone, M. "Exit polls in Venezuela". U.S. News & World Report. 20 August 2004. PSB used Sumate personnel as fieldworkers. Publication or broadcast of exit polls was banned by electoral authorities, but results of the PSB poll went out to media outlets and opposition offices several hours before polls closed. U.S. Poll Firm in Hot Water in Venezuela. Associated Press, Retrieved 9 June 2006. Jimmy Carter said that Sumate "deliberately distributed this erroneous exit poll data in order to build up, not only the expectation of victory, but also to influence the people still standing in line".
Following the recall vote, Sumate requested that Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard University and Roberto Rigobon of MIT perform a statistical analysis analyzing how fraud could have occurred during the referendum. They concluded that the vote samples audited by the government were not a random representation of all precincts and that opposition witnesses and international observers were not allowed near the computer hub on election day.Juan Francisco Alonso (6 September 2004). Sumate: There is a 99% probability of fraud in referendum. El Universal. Retrieved 6 August 2006.Weisbrot M, Rosnick D, Tucker T (20 September 2004). Black Swans, Conspiracy Theories, and the Quixotic Search for Fraud: A Look at Hausmann and Rigobon's Analysis of Venezuela's Referendum Vote. CEPR: Center for Economic and Policy Research. Retrieved 30 June 2006. CEPR, a liberal think tankDorell, O. (4/12/2005). Benefit estimates depend on who calculates them. USA Today.Retrieved 30 June 2006. based in Washington, reports that other economists have called the Harvard/MIT assumptions about how the alleged fraud was conducted unlikely.Weisbrot M, Rosnick D, Tucker T (20 September 2004). Black Swans, Conspiracy Theories, and the Quixotic Search for Fraud: A Look at Hausmann and Rigobon's Analysis of Venezuela's Referendum Vote. CEPR: Center for Economic and Policy Research. Retrieved 30 June 2006.
Treason and conspiracy charges
The group is funded in large part by private Venezuelan interests, but also reportedly received up to 6% of their funds via a grant from the U.S.- backed National Endowment for Democracy. Foreign Contributions amount to 6 per cent of funds. El Universal (8 August 2006). According to CBS News, Chavez branded the leaders of Sumate as conspirators, coup plotters and lackeys of the U.S. government. Chavez Calls Watchdog Group a Top Enemy. CBS News (3 December 2005). After the referendum, members of Sumate were charged with treason and conspiracy, under Article 132 of the Venezuelan Penal Code, for receiving financial support for their activities from the NED. The trial has been postponed several times.
The criminal charges triggered concern from Human Rights Watch and the NED-related World Movement for Democracy. The latter accused the Government of Venezuela of illegally "withholding case files from the defendants, using depositions of the defendants that were made before the charges against them were known, and refusing to accede to requests of the Supreme Court in the case." Tom Casey, acting spokesman for the State Department, expressed disappointment about the court's decision to try the founders and said the charges were "without merit."
Over 70 democrats, including prominent world leaders, wrote to Chavez on 11 November 2004, pointing out that "proceeding against nongovernmental organizations for receiving democratic assistance is a violation of both the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Warsaw Declaration of the Community of Democracies, a document your government signed along with over 100 others four years ago." The letter indicated that the prosecution, "as well as the proposal to criminalize democracy assistance from abroad" are both "clearly inconsistent with international democratic norms and constitute a grave threat to democracy." Signatories of the letter included Czech President Vaclav Havel, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, U.S. Senator John McCain, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, former Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro, former Prime Minister of Bulgaria Philip Dimitrov, and Richard Goldstone, former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
A 2008 Human Rights Watch report highlighted Sumate.
Presidential elections, 2006
Sumate recommended procedures for a primary, to be held on 13 August 2006, to choose the opposition candidate for the 3 December 2006 presidential elections. Sumate: Las primarias se realizaran el 13 de agosto. El Universal (7 July 2006). Teodoro Petkoff, a Chavez critic, said that ''Sumate'sprocedure was authoritarian, comparing it to the Carmona Decree. Teodoro Petkoff: "No me inscribire ni participare en ese proceso." Globovision'' (7 July 2006). Nine other candidates agreed to the terms for holding a primary, confirming their desire to allow the citizens to choose the opposition candidate. Another candidate condemned Petkoff's remarks against Sumate, saying that Petkoff's statements didn't help the country, and explaining that the conditions for holding a primary had been previously discussed between all of the candidates, including Petkoff. Froilan Barrios condeno expresiones de Petkoff. El Universal (7 July 2006). Sumate announced primaries for August 13th. El Universal (8 July 2006). On 9 August, Sumate announced that the 13 August primary election would not be held, since the candidates had decided to back Manuel Rosales as the single opposition candidate. Machado said that the primary "initiative accomplished its goal and that Sumate would continue working to ensure clean elections and respect for citizens' rights." Sumate: there will be no primary elections. El Universal (8 August 2006).
On 8 December 2006, Sumate announced that their count and audits of the final election results matched the official count of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council, that showed a landslide victory for Hugo Chavez, highlighting that "balloting was not clean, transparent or reliable."Castillo, Vivian. "We will know the truth when we have clean elections". El Universal (8 December 2006). Retrieved 10 December 2006. Machado said the Government had stacked the odds against the opposition in the pre-election period, including "a climate of collective intimidation" due to the use of fingerprint-reading machines and an unaudited register of voters, and that if irregularities had been corrected, they could have impacted the final result. She clarified that the impact could not be assessed, saying "We will know only the truth about what Venezuelans really feel, the day when clean elections are held in Venezuela."
Critics say that Sumate is not an impartial organization. Sumate describes itself as a civil association not concerned with who governs, but the Venezuelan democracy.
Other sources describe Sumate as an election or vote-monitoring group,Diehl, Jackson. In Venezuela, Locking Up the Vote; The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: 10 April 2006. pg. A.17Watch Venezuela; The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: 21 November 2004. pg. B.06 a civic organization or civic society,Boustany, Nora. Signing On To Challenge Hugo Chavez. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: 9 July 2004. p. A.15Luhnow, David; de Cordoba, Jose. Academics' Study Backs Fraud Claim In Chavez Election. Wall Street Journal. New York, N.Y.: 7 September 2004. pg. A.18 a voting rights organization,Kraul, Chris. THE WORLD; 3 Venezuela Opposition Parties Bow Out; The anti-Chavez groups, alleging irregularities, say they won't take part in legislative elections.; Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif.: 30 November 2005. pg. A.3 an NGO or Venezuela's largest nongovernmental organization,OGrady, Mary Anastasia. Americas: A Young Mayor Dares to Defy the Chavistas. Wall Street Journal. New York, N.Y.: 29 July 2005. pg. A.13Bush Doctrine, Latin-Style. Wall Street Journal. New York, N.Y.: 7 June 2005. pg. A.14 a "nongovernmental organization resisting efforts by President Hugo Chavez's to turn Venezuela into a dictatorship", a Venezuelan group that helped organize the recall initiative, an organization that mobilized petitioners for the recall of Chavez,Lakshmanan, Indira A.R. Venezuela opposition refuses to admit defeat. Boston Globe. Boston, Mass.: 19 August 2004. pg. A.6 a pro-democracy nonprofit group, Women the World Should Know. National Review Online (8 March 2006). a volunteer organization of democracy activists, Tourists And The Two Venezuelas. CBS News (21 May 2006). and a watchdog group or election watchdog organization. Chavez's Party Gets Big Election Victory. CBS News (5 December 2005).
Juan Forero of The New York Times referred to Sumate as an anti-Hugo Chavez election-monitoring organization,Forero, Juan. Venezuela's Best-Loved, or Maybe Most-Hated, Citizen. New York Times. New York, N.Y.: 19 November 2005. pg. A.4 and an antigovernment group.Forero, Juan. Venezuelan Judge Orders Trial For Chavez Foe Helped by U.S. New York Times. New York, N.Y.: 8 July 2005. pg. A.2 The BBC has referred to Sumate at least three times as an "opposition group". Venezuela 'landslide' for Chavez. BBC News (5 December 2005). Venezuelan opposition quit poll. BBC News (29 November 2005). Venezuela to boost poll security. BBC News (7 October 2005). Venezuelas El Universal consistently refers to Sumate as an NGO, but has called it an opposition NGO in the past. The Christian Science Monitor says of Machado, a friend invited her to create a pro-democracy group, but adds that Larry Birns, director of the liberal Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington says that ''Sumate's"pro-democracy pretensions are ... a front for its anti-Chavez goals".Ceaser, Mike. Anti-Chavez leader under fire. Christian Science Monitor(5 July 2005).
Critics say that Machado supported the 2002 coup attempt. Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional'' reports that Maria Corina Machado's signature is among 352 signatures on the Carmona Decree. Lista de Firmantes del Decreto Carmona. El Nacional (Archivos). Retrieved 24 July 2006. Following the brief ouster of Chavez on 11 April 2002, this decree dissolved the National Assembly (democratically elected under Chavez), the Supreme Tribunal of Justice and other institutions in order to hold new elections, re-establish the constitutional thread, and enact Article 350 of the Constitution of Venezuela which says the People of Venezuela shall disown any regime, legislation or authority that violates democratic values, principles and guarantees or encroaches upon human rights. Acta de constitucion del Gobierno de Transicion Democratica y Unidad Nacional. Venezuela Analitica (12 April 2002). Retrieved 24 July 2006. Venezuela to hold elections within year. BBC News (12 April 2002). According to The Christian Science Monitor, Machado says she had visited the presidential palace and wrote her name on what she thought was a sign-in sheet.
Sumate and others have denounced the government for using the list of signers of the recall petition in violation of privacy and electoral laws. Luis Tascon, a member of the National Assembly representing Chavez' party (Fifth Republic Movement - MVR) and the Communist Party of Venezuela of Tachira state, under orders from Chavez to collect copies of signatures of the petitioners for the recall referendum, published on his website the identities of over 2,400,000 signers. Sumate alleged violation of privacy and electoral laws, considering reports that people who worked for the government were fired, denied work, or denied the issuance of official documents because of their appearance on the list. It is reported in summer 2006 that Venezuelan prosecutors have brought conspiracy charges against the leaders of Sumate. The pro-Chavez National Assembly is preparing to require nonprofit groups to reveal their funding sources.
Plaz is a Venezuelan engineer and management consultant, who holds three Masters degrees (two from Stanford University), and was a Senior partner for McKinsey & Company in Latin America, before taking a leave of absence to co-found Sumate. Machado was hailed as "the best of womankind and the difficult times many women face around the globe" on a list of Women the World Should Know for International Women's Day.
Luis Enrique Palacios and Ricardo Estevez are also charged with complicity in treason and conspiracy.
Official Sumate website
"NGO Sumate rebuts claims of illicit fundraising". El Universal (4 August 2006). Accessed 24 February 2010.
Human Rights Watch statement on trial of Sumate founders
Democracy Activists in Venezuela Threatened
The State of Democracy in Venezuela, United States Senate hearing before the Committee on foreign relations.
U.S. Department of State, The State of Democracy in Venezuela, 1 December 2005.
US Embassy statement on "conspiracy" charges against Sumate founders
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