Witness Exposes Chavista Attempts to Rig Congressional Elections

Chavista supporters allegedly set up an illegal ID center to issue fake documents and sway the vote in Mérida.
Chavistas allegedly set up an illegal ID center to issue fake documents and sway the vote in Mérida. (Viendo.me)

EspañolResidents in the western Venezuelan state of Mérida are up in arms amid allegations that the mayor of Tovar committed electoral fraud during the congressional polls on December 6.

Mayor Iván Puliti and Councilman Miguel Marrufo, both members of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), allegedly set up an illegal center to issue national ID cards — required for voting — on election day at a state-owned facility.

This according to Irís Molina, an independent political activist who discovered the scheme. She tells the PanAm Post that the illegal center operated in the public library’s amphitheater. She also claims that the state building served as a Chavista campaign headquarters on election day.

The ID-printing center issued fake documents in order to boost the ruling party’s votes and attempt to prevent an opposition win, she explained.

Venezuelan law states that the agency in charge of issuing IDs in Venezuela, the Autonomous Service of Identification and Immigration (Saime), must previously announce any ID-issuing operations on its website and report it through the media. However, up to election day, no such information was available.

“Here is one of the IDs printed by the mayor of Tovar, Mérida.”

While she rejected the rumors that voting machines were also present at the site, Molina says she saw a portable computer, a camera, fingerprint scanners, and a printer. She also spotted the director of Tovar’s Saime, Janeth Salinas.

Molina says that when she inquired about the legitimacy of the operation, authorities told her that the office was perfectly legal. Once she left the premises, however, they began to dismantle the equipment, she says.

Besides Mayor Puliti, she claims that others present at the site included the director of the Education Ministry’s Social Security Institute, Janeth Salinas; her husband, local council head Miguel Marrufo; as well as Belén Ramírez, the mother of a PSUV candidate running for the National Assembly.

Molina says that when in line for her new ID, Salinas recognized her and interrupted the procedure. Citing an “electrical failure,” the official tried to stop the document from printing, but it was too late.

“When they were caught red-handed, they decided to turn everything off … and when rumors spread, they dismantled the whole operation and concealed the equipment,” she says, adding that those operating the illegal center entered through a backdoor instead of using the public library’s main entrance.

“This is Not the First Time”

Molina believes that the ruling party has tried to force the outcome of elections with this strategy for years. “This is not the first time it happens, and won’t be the last one. It’s taking place in many other municipalities,” she says.

She claims that Chavista supporters set up similar centers in the states of Yaracuy and Coro, but was not able to collect evidence.

A team of lawyers are currently assisting Molina, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has vowed to protect her, since she is the only witness to the alleged illegal scheme.

The activist says that she filed a complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office in Mérida on the day of the election, and delivered the ID issued to her and the video she recorded at the site on the following Monday.

Sonia Castro, an officer with the opposition Popular Will party, told the PanAm Post that she visited the location, but the equipment was no longer there. Nevertheless, she confirmed that the state’s Saime director, the mother of the PSUV candidate, and a representative from the National Electoral Council were present.

Castro claims that Mérida Governor Alexis Ramírez asked her to intervene and make problem go away, but she refused, assuring him that she would support the investigation wherever it leads.

The news sparked protests in Tovar, which resulted in 13 young people arrested for burning vehicles belonging to Marrufo’s wife and the PSUV candidate’s mother, Fabricio Quintero, a regional youth officer with the opposition party Copei, told the PanAm Post.

“Public officials are caught red-handed faking IDs, people protest, and the protesters are arrested. This is madness!”

According to Quintero, the illegal center printed IDs of deceased individuals but with a different photograph, so that Chavistas “could vote more than once.”

Neither the mayor of Tovar nor Councilman Marrufo have come forward to offer an explanation, and their whereabouts are currently unknown. The police has since released the detained protesters.

Molina, Castro, and Quintero all urged the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) to “take the matter into their own hands” and back the complaint.

Despite the alleged attempts at electoral fraud, the opposition snatched Tovar’s seat in the National Assembly from the Chavistas. MUD candidate Alexis Paparoni obtained 61.84 percent of the vote against the ruling-party candidate’s 34.9 percent.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

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