- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez survived his country’s fiercely contested recall election by a wide margin, election officials said yesterday, with former President Jimmy Carter and the Organization of American States rejecting opposition charges of massive fraud.

But opposition leaders refused to accept defeat and a throng of protesters took to the streets in the city center. One woman was killed and four were wounded by Chavez supporters who fired into a protest in eastern Caracas.

The National Elections Commission (CNE) announced just after 4 a.m. that Mr. Chavez’s rule had been endorsed by 58 percent of the voters in Sunday’s balloting, compared with 42 percent against.

“After a sufficient analysis from our own sources, we are in a position to say that our information coincides with the partial results of the CNE,” Mr. Carter said several hours later. “My opinion is that all Venezuelans should accept the results of the CNE unless tangible proof is presented that the results are incorrect.”

Mr. Carter went on to say that observers from his Atlanta-based Carter Center “haven’t received any evidence” of fraud.

But anti-Chavez demonstrators took to the streets to protest the outcome, which was also endorsed by OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria, chanting “Down with fraud,” and “Gaviria, you know that Chavez engaged in fraud.”

“We know that we won,” marcher Daria Leal insisted with tears in her eyes. That conviction was encouraged by two opposition-friendly members of the election commission who refused to certify the results.

Mr. Chavez appeared on the balcony of his Miraflores presidential palace soon after the results were announced to proclaim his victory. “The Venezuelan people have spoken, and the people’s voice is the voice of God,” he told the cheering supporters.

At an evening press conference, the president called for all Venezuelans to support his victory, saying, “I repeat my call for unity … to the people who are for me and those who prefer another political option.”

Addressing international fears that the vote would destabilize the world’s fifth-largest oil producer, Mr. Chavez said: “This government guarantees stability and fulfillment of the economic commitment Venezuela has with the world.”

He said he was certain that Wall Street and even some in the White House “breathed easier” because of the outcome of the vote.

Even without the large turnout by Mr. Chavez’s predominantly poor supporters on Sunday, his opponents failed to muster enough votes for a recall, the official results showed.

To end the president’s term, the opposition needed to garner more than the 3.76 million votes that put Mr. Chavez in office two years ago. Despite reports of a huge turnout on Sunday, the election commission tallied only 3.58 million votes for the recall.

CNE official Jorge Rojas said Mr. Chavez had won all but two of the country’s 22 states. The opposition took Miranda state, where opposition leader Enrique Mendoza is governor, and Tachira.

The results were partial and didn’t include the 10 percent of voters who used paper ballots instead of electronic touch-screen voting machines, which were used for the first time.

Mr. Rojas invited international observers to review the results and come to their own conclusions. “Yesterday’s elections were the most secure in the history of Venezuela,” he said.

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