A telephone conversation between former Attorney General Ramon Escovar Salom and his son Ramon Escovar Leon, reveals that the opposition NGO "Sumate" asserts that they only collected 1.9 million signatures.
The opposition needs 2.4 million signatures to trigger a recall referendum against Chavez. Sumate, the organization funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID, which organized a petition drive against the President last February and which provided logistical support to the petition drive this time, said publicly that the opposition collected 3.4 million signatures.
The conversation reveals fraud on the part of the opposition in the signature collection process.
Mr. Escovar Salom, a prominent memeber of the opposition, was the Attorney General during the corrupt administration of ex-president Carlos Andres Perez. During the coup d'etat of April of 2002, Escovar Salom advocated the use of force to remove the governor of the Tachira state, who refused to recognize the brief dictatorial government.
Both, father and son, exchange information and opinions on the current political situation, the opposition signature drive, and the possible opposition presidential candidates.
During the conversation they admit that Chávez would win another election, and that the President has "many cards to play" in order to stay in power.
The identity of the person who made the phone recording is unknown. The audio was sent to the aporrea.org website by e-mail. In Venezuela it is common for the government and the opposition to reveal to the public recordings of private phone conversations with political purposes.
A transcript of the conversation follows. The audio in Spanish is available at aporrea.org.
Greetings between Ramon Escovar Salom and his son
Son: I was talking with Roman (Roman Duque Corredor) just now. Did you know there had been a meeting at Nelson’s (Nelson Soccoro, a former magistrate under Carlos Andres Perez) this Sunday?
Father: Yes, they invited me but I didn’t go
Son: And you know what was the reason for it?
Son: that the SUMATE people had said that they had just counted one-million-and-nine-hundred-thousand signatures (for the late petition drive against Chavez). That was the reason.
Father: they called me to attend the meeting but I couldn’t go.
Son: Roman is grateful that you didn’t go because it ended up being a waste of time
Father: I’ve already imagined it
Son: They were very nervous because the people at SUMATE told them that they had counted only one-million-and-nine-hundred-thousand signatures
Father: But that’s not true …all the (necessary) signatures were gathered
Son: But that’s what Roman says. Roman tells me …it’s not true that one-million-and-nine-hundred-thousand signatures were gathered; what it’s true is that SUMATE said so. And he said that the person in charge is an experienced girl …What do they know anyways! And I told him: But how are they supposed to come up with that number just like that, to compute all of those signatures … its’ not digital, It’s not digital, some colored cards … It’s like a paper list with the fingerprints, names and a bunch of information of ten people ... which makes their accounting too slow.
Father: Right, it seems to me that the signatures were not only sufficient, but abundant. That’s the impression I have.
Son: Nobody knows about that yet, how many signatures were gathered.
Father: Yes, but the impression…
Son: I believe they are speculating
Father: …The general impression is favorable
Son: There’s a lack of seriousness if we look at the expectations. Now, if SUMATE told this people (Roman Duque Corredor et al) … that there were one-million-and-nine-hundred…
Father: The issue is that Nelson is a very cool guy, but he doesn’t have experience to deal with these things. When he called me …
Son: But it was not Nelson, it was SUMATE!
Father: Yes, I know, but when he called me, I understood that there were no reasons to hold that meeting. That’s why I didn’t go, besides that, I had a lunch on Sunday and I couldn’t …No, no … but I still didn’t have motivation to go because I already knew that that was not going …it didn’t have any foundation. Although I was not told so, that was the motive. But, I somehow suspected that there was fear about something …wasn’t it? …That there were frauds and the like …but I believe everything turned out alright, it seems to me that the signatures’ gathering went well. The government has been dealt a tremendous blow and it’s on the defensive now.
Son: Chavez is going to throw out an amendment to shorten everybody’s mandate to set up general elections, that’s what Roman told me this morning.
Father: that’s very likely.
Son: They are going to amend the constitution: Everybody’s mandates would then be outdated so we would have to go to general elections with Frijolito (Salas Romer), Enrique Mendoza and … of course, given such scenario, he (Chavez) can win again, can’t he?
Father: Well, let’s see.
Son: The other scenario would be that Frijolito and Enrique Mendoza endorse Eduardo Fernandez
Father: That’s not possible
Father: That’s impossible, I think.
Son: In here, politics are the art of the possible
Father: I know but not here, I don’t think they would want to support Eduardo Fernandez. I don’t believe so
Son: well, but that’s COPEI, Isn’t it?
Father: I know, but I don’t see it happening that way, aren’t they going to renounce those whom they already have alongside them to support Eduardo Fernandez? No, no, Who said that?
Son: I said it, that’s what I told Roman. The fact that they would unite to beat Chavez on elections! If that were true, then they would have to unite around one person, and each of them would have to quit …But that’s not the plan; the plan is not to oust Chavez, but instead to gain power and share it among themselves …Now, …those who signed is because they want to get rid of Chavez. But the ones who manipulate the political game, all they want is to seize power. Then I said, if all you want is to get rid of Chavez; then, unite! you COPEI party members can agree to it among yourselves
Father: That’s going to be very difficult, at least that part. Chavez still has cards left to play.
Son: But it’s now stronger than ever, now I’m figuring things out. I didn’t know that gossip by SUMATE
Father: Maybe they made it up for something, who knows? but they got scared
Son: This guy tells me that they were scared the shitless and that they would call Carmelo Lauria very two minutes and then Carmelo would call everybody else, all of them shitted on their pants, they would go: “Damn, we didn’t get the signatures” and Roman would tell them that was not true and so on. Melis, Planchart, Leañes, Boris Bonis Mos were at the meeting too.
Father: I know, also Manolo …(?)
Father: I called Nelson twice and told him that I ...didn’t think …I could meet them. Then he was already at SUMATE when I called him in the afternoon
Son: Well, that’s where he brought the information, but we still have to review it
Father: And what would Pepe (Jose Rodriguez Iturbe?) say about it?
Son: Well, you know that we’re still around …there are Talibans everywhere though.
Father: What would Pepe and Gustavo say?
Son: I don’t know, but they’re sill talibans. The coherent, thoughtful positions ...eh ...the faith for this process is now nonexistent in Venezuela
Father: when the people is really starving
Son: But those guys (presumably Chavez’ protégés?) are not starving
Father: They’re not, but the country is
Son: But the less radical are the ones starving. The most radical ones are those of the extreme right and left
Father: Undoubtedly, there are two radicalisms
Son: Then, like that book you took from me says, we still are in one of those backward countries that move around two extremes. There is not a middle in here, this is the profound cultural problem: A super-backward country
Father: and there are others way more backward
Son: Well, but this is shamefully the one I live in, which is the one I’m most interested on. It can’t be justified on the grounds that there are other countries more backward.
Father: That’s right, but let’s see how things keep turning out
Farewell and end of the conversation