Media Center



February 1, 2006 - Washington, DC

Madame Chair, Members of the Council:

We have heard today preliminary reports regarding the findings of electoral observation missions in three member states. We will leave here today with satisfaction about the work of the OAS, but also a measure of concern over the state of representative democracy in our hemisphere.

Three separate OAS missions, under the leadership of Secretary General Insulza and a dedicated team of OAS professionals, must be praised. Their excellent work under challenging conditions has been faithful to the ideals of the OAS Charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter throughout this process. The United States welcomes the reports on all three countries, and commends each Mission for jobs very well done.

The historic role of the OAS in conducting electoral observation missions is one of its most important. Through the years, the OAS has exercised a vital role to help preserve and strengthen representative democracy and, Madame Chair, will continue to do so.

The OAS member states historically have welcomed the OAS role of a type of “democratic guardian,” inviting OAS electoral missions to observe a myriad of elections, and publicly supporting the OAS findings in a spirit of solidarity with the OAS Charter and the mandates of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

In the November 27 presidential and legislative elections, Honduras continued its steady path of the past twenty years to consolidate representative democracy and strengthen its commitment to the rule of law. The peaceful transfer of power that occurred following the election, and the participation of the Honduran people in that process – with nearly 60% voter participation -- are powerful examples for the hemisphere and beyond.

The recommendations of the OAS report have called upon the government of Honduras to continue improving the technological measures used in its voting system, to facilitate a more timely release of the results, and to foster greater tolerance, respect and communication among the political parties.

It is instructive that the Honduran government and the electoral authorities have received these recommendations in good faith, cognizant of the need to address problems and strengthen the democratic process.

Indeed, in a December 7 statement, the OAS unequivocally “recognized the cooperation of the government authorities and institutions, and electoral authorities…which permitted a successful observation mission,” and saluted Honduras’ renewed commitment to “support and back democracy as the ideal system by which to construct a better country,” and certainly the words of the Honduran Permanent Representative underline that commitment.

Similarly, my delegation congratulates the government and people of Bolivia for conducting fair, transparent and peaceful elections on December 18th and for demonstrating their commitment to democracy and the constitutional process. 84% of eligible voters in Bolivia cast a ballot in the election. The OAS mission conducted an exhaustive observation throughout Bolivia and merits our commendation.

The specific recommendations made in the OAS report regarding necessary improvements to the electoral registry to ensure that all voters had the opportunity to vote and that electoral laws facilitate the registration process are crucial, of course, to the democratic process. The Bolivian government has welcomed these recommendations in the spirit of the Democratic Charter and demonstrated strong cooperation with the OAS throughout the electoral process, and certainly the government of President Rodriguez deserves credit for its constructive role.

Indeed, OAS press statements in the days following the Bolivian election “thanked the political parties, the National Police,…and the National Electoral Court” for their full cooperation.

In both Honduras and Bolivia, the OAS conducted its missions by its own rigorous standards – with complete and unfettered access to all aspects of the electoral process. There was no prolonged, needless negotiation over observers’ rights, their responsibilities, or how the OAS would comport itself. In short, the governments and people of Honduras and Bolivia trusted the OAS. The successful results are self-evident.

Though not without problems, the Bolivian and Honduran elections were conducted transparently and with strong public support. And the voters, the political parties, civil society, and the international community accepted the outcomes as a legitimate expression of the will of the people.

Madame Chair, my delegation also would like to recognize the successful OAS electoral mission to Venezuela, headed by Rubén Perina and with the support of Secretary General Insulza and his staff under challenging conditions. The election results and the findings of both the OAS and European Union preliminary reports speak for themselves and they complement each other.

This is not the first time the OAS has observed an election at the invitation of the Venezuelan government. And as we contemplate the most recent report, we have to recall the electoral observation experience of August 2004.

The OAS and the Carter Center highlighted several concerns in their August 2004 assessments of the presidential recall referendum. A key finding of both organizations revealed serious concerns about the Venezuelan National Electoral Council or CNE. Sadly, sixteen months later, those concerns have intensified; they not lessened.

Ambassador Walter Pecly Moreira, who led the OAS observation, summarized the mission’s concerns by stating “more transparent behavior from the CNE, including as regards relations among its own members, would have engendered a more positive effect on the level of confidence of the electorate in the system.”

Former Secretary General Gaviria reinforced these concerns about the CNE before the Permanent Council on August 24, 2004, commenting that “The National Electoral Council…was a problem in Venezuela throughout [the referendum] process – it made decisions along partisan lines all of the time….This complicated somewhat our work and diminished somewhat the Council’s own decisions.”

Similarly, the Carter Center study in 2004 reminded us that “Transparency is the fundamental basis of trust”, and cited what it described as “The internal divisions, lack of transparency, and ad hoc decision-making practices of the CNE.” It called upon the CNE to “put in place much greater mechanisms of transparency to restore confidence in the electoral process.”

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Venezuela cited its own concerns throughout the referendum process of 2004, stating “puede deducirse que estas medidas conducen a una fractura mayor en la confianza y credibilidad de una institución, el CNE, que se debe al pueblo soberano, y no a parcialidad alguna.”

The European Union, incidentally, declined an invitation to observe the August 2004 referendum after the CNE refused to agree to the EU observation standards.

Following the 2004 referendum, I posed a simple question before this Council. I stated: “We must use this experience in Venezuela to take a strong look at the future of electoral observer missions as guardians of free and fair elections. Is it appropriate for electoral observation missions to have to negotiate their size and the modalities of their work?”

Yet, here we are, sixteen months later. Today, the OAS member states have received a still-preliminary report on the December 2005 Venezuelan elections that not only re-articulates prior concerns, but describes an election supported by no more than 25 percent of the electorate, according to the CNE’s own data – and private polls by the highly respected firm of Keller and Associates, and other organizations suggest only 17 percent of the electorate -- and mired in a climate of mutual distrust that the opposition – and the overwhelming majority of the Venezuelan people – declined to participate.

The OAS preliminary report echoes the Inter-American Democratic Charter when it states: “Electoral participation is what contributes to the strengthening of democracy and the legitimacy of representative institutions. It is up to the electoral authorities to generate the necessary conditions for the full participation of all sectors. Every democracy requires an institutional opposition committed to the electoral process.”

The OAS report goes one step further, when it notes that “The primary political responsibility to promote such a dialogue rests with the governmental authorities.”

And the OAS report continues: “There remains a distrust of the CNE on the part of a significant segment of the opposition. This was expressed in terms of criticisms about its origins and composition, the perception that the opposition has of partiality and lack of transparency in the CNE’s actions,…and…controversial application of some aspects of election laws.”

The European Union’s Preliminary Statement cites the same concerns when it comments that “Wide sectors of the Venezuelan society do not have trust in the electoral process and in the independence of the electoral authority. The legal framework contains several inconsistencies that leave room for differing and contradictory interpretations. The disclosure of a computerized list of citizens indicating their political preference in the signature collection process for the Presidential Recall Referendum (so-called “Maisanta Program”) generates fear that the secrecy of the vote could be violated.”

The OAS and the EU are not alone. The observer delegation from the Spanish Parliament expressed its “inquietud” that “un parlamento sin representación de la oposición plantea grandes incertidumbres en cuanto al functionamiento normal y democrático de las instituciones. El proceso electoral…refleja la desconfianza…en el sistema automatizado de voto y en el Poder Electoral nacional.”

The organization “Human Rights Watch”, in its 2006 Country Report, though not directly addressing the December elections, offers a broader set of concerns about the curtailment of Freedom of Expression, government pressures on civil society, and lack of judicial independence that only deepen the pervasive mistrust cited in the three reports just mentioned: the OAS, the EU and the Spanish Parliament.

And just two weeks ago, the Venezuelan Catholic Bishops Conference called for “una renovación total del Consejo Nacional Electoral, en sus miembros y en sus directrices, organizado conforme…con las exigencias ineludibles de transparencia, autonomía y confiabilidad….”

Madame Chair, Members of the Council,

The three reports we have received today -- their findings, their conclusions, and their recommendations -- speak for themselves.

My delegation has nothing more to add to their thoughtful words.

The OAS has made good-faith recommendations in each report on steps to strengthen the democratic process.

The OAS missions to these three countries deserve warm congratulations from all of the member states. The OAS Secretariat has fulfilled its responsibility with professionalism and dignity, and we have heard invitations to the OAS – without preconditions – reiterated by the delegations of Peru and Nicaragua.

Governments elected democratically must govern democratically. And the Inter-American Democratic Charter, with its clear call to respect human rights, freedom of expression, separation of powers, and transparency, must be our guide as the Secretary General and this Permanent Council proceed with our collective efforts to carry out our responsibilities.

Thank you, Madame Chair.