Venezuela Turns to U.S. for Computers : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

May 23, 2000 - 09:19 PM

Venezuela Turns to U.S. for Computers in Attempt to Salvage Elections By Steven Gutkin Associated Press Writer

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuela dispatched an air force jet to Nebraska on Tuesday to fetch computers and experts in a last ditch effort to salvage next weekend's presidential elections. The elections have been jeopardized by technical glitches, bomb threats and sabotage, election officials said.

National Election Council head Etanislao Gonzalez placed much of the blame for the technical difficulties on a Nebraska-based firm called Election System and Software, which was contracted to provide materials necessary for vote tabulation.

Gonzalez said the company had "flagrantly failed" to meet its commitments, and that the failure had destabilized the country's electoral process.

John Groh, the Nebraska company's senior vice president of international sales, said by phone from Omaha that constant changes by election authorities in posting thousands of candidates were hindering his firm's work.

"I think they are blaming us because they are under political pressure," he said.

In addition to the computer glitches, Gonzalez said the election council had received numerous anonymous bomb threats and had learned that saboteurs were planning to "place a virus in the council's computer system."

Venezuelans are scheduled to go to the polls on May 28 to elect a president, a legislature, governors, mayors and local councils. The new constitution pushed through last year by President Hugo Chavez requires most public powers be "re-legitimized."

But Gonzalez indicated that Venezuela might have to postpone the vote if the difficulties were not solved by midday Wednesday. An air force jet was being sent Tuesday to Omaha, he said, to pick up equipment and personnel after two of the firm's technicians failed to resolve computer glitches.

Groh said the company was willing to send more equipment, but no more technicians since "we have all the people we need down there."

With more than 6,000 public offices at stake, the elections are the biggest in the South American nation's history. Seeking re-election after only 15 months in office, Chavez is facing off against former Zulia state governor Francisco Arias Cardenas, who helped Chavez stage a failed 1992 coup but has since broken with the president.

Calling Chavez's discourse "cheap demagoguery," Arias wrapped up his campaigning in the capital of Caracas Tuesday with a rally attended by tens of thousands.

"We won't put up with dictatorships," he declared, blaming Chavez for what he said was Venezuela's plunge into economic disaster.

Arias has captured the support of Venezuela's upper and middle classes, but Chavez still appears to hold sway in the slums and shantytowns that are home to the majority of Venezuela's 23 million people. Polls give the president a comfortable lead going into Sunday's vote.

Earlier Tuesday, Chavez told a local television station that he had asked the U.S. government to take the "necessary" measures against ES&S.

"Because it's very strange, and I underline very strange, that two technicians who helped design the machine can't enter the computer," Chavez said.

Technical problems already forced the election council to postpone an initial test, raising widespread concern about the government's capacity to carry out the elections.

On Monday, two Venezuelan civil rights groups urged the highest court to postpone the vote because of confusion and technical difficulties. The Organization of American States observation team also expressed concern that computer glitches could create problems during the vote.

The electoral process has also come under fire because the electoral council was hand-picked by Chavez's leftist coalition in an exercise widely criticized as undemocratic.

AP-ES-05-23-00 2118EDT

-- Martin Thompson (, May 23, 2000

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