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RIC Query - Venezuela (27 October 2003)

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Response to Information Request Number:VEN04001.RIC
Date:October 27, 2003
Subject:Venezuela: Background Information on the Referendum Process
From:CIS Resource Information Center
Keywords:Venezuela / Elections / Discrimination based on a political opinion




How can an elected official be recalled in Venezuela? How does the Venezuelan Referendum Process work? What is the status of the campaign to recall President Hugo Chavez? Have there been reprisals against the opposition?



Article 72 of the Venezuelan Constitution provides that the office of a popularly elected leader can be revoked through the calling of a referendum. The Venezuelan Constitution of 1961 was amended under the Chávez government regime in 1999 (ECONOMIST 11 Sep 2003). One amendment of the Constitution, Article 72, allows for a referendum. Article72 states:

"All popularly elected officials' and magistrates' terms of office are subject to revocation. During the midway point of the term for which the functionary was elected, a number no less than twenty percent of the registered voters can solicit the convocation of a referendum to revoke his/her mandate.

When a number equal or greater than the number of registered voters that elected the functionary have voted in favor of the revocation, and always assuring that a number equal to or greater than twenty-five percent of registered voters voted in the referendum, the functionary's mandate will be considered revoked and the process will begin to fulfill the position immediately according to and conforming with all available means in this Constitution and in the Laws" (Golinger-Moncada 4 Jul 2003).

I. According to Article 72, a referendum is permitted during the midway point of the elected official's term. The following are necessary steps to recall an elected official:

--First, 20% of the registered electorate must sign a petition for the summoning of a referendum. Assuming that the process to obtain the petition adheres to the recognized law, the CNE, National Elections College [also referred to as the National Electoral Council], will then verify and count the number of signatures provided. If the aforementioned prerequisites are met, the process then moves towards obtaining a referendum.

II. For a referendum to pass, the following two criteria must be met:

--In order to have an elected official removed, a vote must be cast by an equal or greater number of the registered electorate who originally voted the official into office.

--Part two of the referendum process also requires that at least twenty five percent of registered voters participate in the referendum voting process. The CNE is then required to verify that all votes are legitimate and accounted for. Throughout the referendum procedure, step one and step two, the Venezuelan government is to remain neutral and removed from the Article 72 process.


An accord was signed on the 29th of May 2003 by the Venezuelan government and an opposition organization, Coordinadora Democrática, to permit a referendum to proceed based on Article 72 of the Venezuelan Constitution (Golinger-Moncada 4 Jul 2003). Step one of the calling of the referendum took place during the mid-point of Chávez's six-year presidency on August 19, 2003. Although close to three million signatures were obtained during February of 2003, the CNE announced that the signatures presented were deemed ineligible (LALBR 30 Sep 2003). Súmate, a private non-partisan organization, led the collection of signatures for the referendum call in February of 2003. The Chávez administration charged that the signatures were inadmissible because Súmate obtained them after a two-month general opposition strike in early February (Sarmiento 3 Sep 2003). Furthermore, the Chávez government maintained that electoral law was violated because the CNE was not involved in the signature collection process. The Vice President, José Vicente Rangel, filed a complaint in early September against Súmate and called for a criminal inquiry (Sarmiento 3 Sep 2003).

The next target date for a referendum by the opposition is set for February or March 2004 (ECONOMIST 9 Oct 2003). The National Electoral Council has set a 155-day maximum timetable for the upcoming referendum (Reuters 26 Sep 2003). On October 15, 2003, the CNE provided specific dates during which petition signatures can be collected for the recall. During the designated time period, referendum summons will extend to include mayors, legislators, and governors. The first date, November 21st, will allow for the pro-government supporters to turn in recall petitions. November 28th is the designated day for the opposition signature collection (LAWR 21 Oct 2003). The CNE has explicit time guidelines to which the recall process must adhere. First, four days are allowed for the collection of recall signatures. Second, after the signatures are collected, the CNE is allowed one month for signature verification (LALBR 30 Sept 2003). The opposition will need a minimum of 2.4 million signatures. Timing is a crucial factor in this process, both for the opposition and Chávez supporters. According to the constitution, in order for Chávez to be removed from office via a referendum, the entire process must be concluded by August 19, 2004. If the completed referendum process were to transpire, the Constitution mandates that new presidential elections take place within one month. If the referendum process is completed and Chávez is removed from office after the August 19, 2004 deadline, Vice-President José Vicente Rangel would assume the presidency (LAWR 16 Sep 2003).

Even though the amended 1999 Constitution provides protection against discrimination based on political opinion, a recent database leak has singled out former signatories of a November 2002 petition for a referendum. According to the ECONOMIST, "[t]hose who dared to support the recall are also being singled out for persecution by public-sector employers, including ministries, the armed forces and the powerful state oil corporation, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA)" (11 Sep 2003). According to the MIAMI HERALD, recipients of student grants, lawyers, human rights activists, officials of labor unions and job applicants have also reported harassment for signing the referendum petition (Gunson 9 Sep 2003). The November list containing identity card numbers and names was sent to Luis Tascón, a legislator from the Chávez supported Fifth Republic Movement (MVR). Tascón published the November list on the Web and warned that the February list of referendum petitioners may be next (ECONOMIST 11 Sep 2003). The publication of last November's list has resulted in corrective action and dismissal for some military personnel and is being used to screen job applications for the PDVSA (ECONOMIST 11 Sep 2003).

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


ECONOMIST. "If You Can't Beat Them Buy Them" ( 9 Oct 2003), [Accessed 14 Oct 2003].

ECONOMIST. "Back To The Drawing Board: The Petition for a Referendum Is Rejected" (18 Sep 2003), [Accessed 14 Oct 2003].

ECONOMIST. "With us or Against us Supporters of the Recall Referendum Are Paying the Price" (11 Sep 2003), [Accessed 14 Oct 2003].

ECONOMIST. "Recalling the Revolution; California Comes to Caracas" (21 Aug 2003), [Accessed 14 Oct 2003].

Golinger-Moncada, Eva. VENEZUELA'S ELECTRONIC NEWS. "Article 72: Referendum in Explanatory Note!" (4 Jul 2003), [Accessed 14 Oct 2004].

Gunson, Philip. MIAMI HERALD. "Supporters of Recall Election in Venezuela Cry Harassment" (9 Sep 2003).

LATIN AMERICAN LAW AND BUSINESS REPORT (LALBR). "Venezuela's Uncertain Course: A Setback to the Efforts to Recall President Hugo Chávez; An Interview with Inter-American Dialogue's Michael Shifter" (Vol. 11, No. 09, 30 Sep 2003).

LATIN AMERICAN WEEKLY REPORT (LAWR). "Signatures in November, Votes in March" (21 Oct 2003), [Accessed 28 Oct 2003 ].

LATIN AMERICAN WEEKLY REPORT (LAWR). "With Rules in Place, Focus Shifts to Head Counting" ( 30 Sep 2003), [Accessed 28 Oct 2003].

LATIN AMERICAN WEEKLY REPORT (LAWR). "Opposition Back at Square One" (16 Sep 2003), [Accessed 28 Oct 2003].

Reuters Alert Net. "Venezuela Opposition Aims for Feb 2004 Referendum" (26 Sep 2003), [Accessed 14 Oct 2004].

Sarmiento, Tomas. BOSTON GLOBE. "Venezuela Gov't Steps Up Anti-Referendum Offensive" (3 Sep 2003).

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