On June 11, Tibisay Lucena, chair of the Venezuelan National Election Council (CNE), announced that it had completed its audit of all ballots from the April 14 presidential election. No major discrepancies were found, and the election of socialist and Hugo Chavez ally Nicolas Maduro as the new president is allowed to stand. Predictably, the opposition, led by losing MUD presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, denounced the audit as fraudulent. A response from the Obama administration is now awaited.
The presidential election was a special one, made necessary by the death of President Chavez on March 5. The initial results were close, with Maduro winning 50.7 percent of the 4.6 million votes cast, to Capriles' 49.1 percent. A routine audit of 54 percent of the vote, which compared paper receipts with computer recordings, was carried out immediately. Capriles then demanded a full audit of the remaining ballots, which is the one just completed. An additional demand to verify the fingerprints of all registered voters was refused by the CNE.
Capriles has announced that he will ask the Venezuelan Supreme Court for a new election, and if, as expected, he fails there, he will go to "international bodies."
The completed audit found a 99.98 percent correspondence between the paper and electronic votes. The .02 percent discrepancy was caused by errors such as the voter destroying the paper ballot rather than putting it in the required receptacle, CNE representatives explained.
It is doubtful that Capriles' efforts to overturn the election will succeed. As of this writing, the United States is the only country refusing to recognize the election results, which may change given the audit. All other countries of the Western Hemisphere, including those with right-wing governments, have long since recognized Maduro as president.
Friction between Venezuela and the United States has continued because of various incidents, including a statement by President Obama to a Spanish-language media outlet that Venezuela should look to countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile as examples of how to improve their country's governance. This was met with incredulity in Caracas and beyond; elections like the one held last year in Mexico have been notoriously corrupt, with evidence of massive vote-buying scandals still unfolding.
However, there some cooling of tempers may be in the offing. Venezuela released and deported, instead of prosecuting, a young American it had arrested after accusing him of links to far-right groups. And on July 6 at the Organization of American States meeting in Antigua, Guatemala, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua. Evidently the meeting went well; the two agreed to work on restoration of ambassadorial-level relations, broken off since 2009. Kerry thanked Jaua and "President Maduro" and said that both countries want to "find a new way forward, establish a more constructive and positive relationship "
Negotiations on bilateral relations will continue with Venezuela's foreign ministry represented by Calixto Ortega, and the U.S. State Department by Roberta Jacobson. Energy and other issues will also be on the agenda.
Predictably, the right wing in the United States criticized the Jaua-Kerry meeting. Progressive activists are urging that the White House and State Department openly recognize Maduro as president and normalize U.S.-Venezuela relations.
Photo: Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jose Jaua shake hands as they pose for a photo during a meeting of the 43rd General Assembly of the Organization of American States, OAS, in Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala, June 5. Kerry, on his first trip to Latin America since taking office, gauged prospects Wednesday for improving badly strained ties between the United States and Venezuela that have steadily deteriorated over the past decade. (AP/Moises Castillo)