Interview with Guillaume Long, former chancellor of Ecuador
By Pedro Brieger – Director of NODAL
The Center for Research in Economics and Politics (CEPR) denounced the Organization of American States (OAS) for not presenting evidence that there has been fraud in the elections of Bolivia since the investigation of the successive reports of the Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) of the OAS and then the audit of the agency itself in that country. An exhaustive CEPR final report on the OAS electoral observation in the Bolivian presidential elections of October 20 will be published in the next few days.
To analyze the NODAL report, we interviewed Guillaume Long, a researcher at the CEPR in Washington DC, a “think tank” with a long history in the study of economic and social policies in Latin America. Long was chancellor during the government of former President of Ecuador Rafael Correa (2007-2017), as well as Minister of Culture and Heritage and Minister of Knowledge and Human Talent. In 2018 he resigned as ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva for his deep disagreements with the Lenin Moreno government.
CEPR, a Washington-based think tank in which you work, has insisted since the end of October 2019 that the findings of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission in Bolivia have been problematic and that the OAS has not presented evidence of fraud In the elections. CEPR said that “the final audit of the OAS does not prove – it does not even argue convincingly – that the results of the elections were manipulated.” Why does the CEPR make this complaint and when did they begin to doubt the suitability of the electoral observation carried out by the OAS?
Undoubtedly, the element that aroused our initial suspicion was the press release of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) of October 21, the day after the election. We were surprised by the tone of the statement: aggressive, without any technical element, but calling for the will of the electors to be respected and insinuating that there was something fraudulent. The only element communicated by the MOE was an alleged “change in trend” of the election results, after the interruption of the TREP [preliminary vote count] with 84% of the votes counted. Then we began to study whether this “change of trend” had really taken place. We were able to show that there was no change in trend from the beginning,
Can you explain what you mean when you say there was no change in trend?
It is very simple. With 83.85% of the preliminary count, Morales was 7.9 points ahead of Carlos Mesa, that is an insufficient difference to win without a second round. But with 95% of the preliminary count, Morales had exceeded the threshold of 10 points to win in the first round. [in Bolivia, presidential elections can be won in the first round if a candidate has reached 50% of the votes, or 40% with 10 points of difference with the next candidate]. The difference is explained because there was a lack of counting a large number of votes in areas where there were already very favorable voting trends for Evo Morales. It was obvious that, when entering those votes, the difference between both candidates was going to be enlarged.
I think this was “obvious,” as you say, that it was obvious that the votes in these areas were missing in the count?
Yes. Many areas of great support for Morales and the MAS had not been computed. Areas where Morales won with more than 30 points of difference and where only a small percentage of the votes had been counted. It was obvious that by bequeathing 100%, the result would change. In fact, it is not the first time this has happened in Bolivia. On previous occasions, Morales and the MAS obtained a significant increase in votes in the final phase of the count.
Like in which election?
For example, in the famous referendum on the presidential re-election of January 2016, which in fact was observed by the OAS. With 83.1% of the votes counted, the Yes to re-election lost with 46.2%, when finally the Yes ended up losing, but with 48.7%; an increase in the final phase of the count even greater than in the 2019 presidential elections. This is a precedent that the OAS could not ignore.
And, nevertheless, this denunciation of the MOE of the OAS on a supposed change of tendency had serious consequences for Bolivian democracy …
Indeed. That fallacy gave rise to a story about a possible fraud, which led to an audit of the elections by the OAS, which in turn opened the door for the OAS to conclude without presenting evidence that there was an “intentional manipulation” of the election results, and to call elections with a new Supreme Electoral Tribunal. In other words, without this initial MOE denunciation, it is likely that the coup d’etat that was subsequently triggered would not have been successful.
The trend change argument was what opened the door to the subsequent audit. But there is no argument to support that the initial pretext for the audit could have been fallacious, but at the end they found many elements that called into question the suitability of the electoral process?
No,there is no argument. Let’s go by parts. First of all, I think it is no less that the audit has emerged from a lie. When you lie once, what guarantee do you have that the rest of the process will not remain a lie?
In essence, what the OAS audit did was to list as many irregularities as possible to sell the idea that the electoral result had been altered. I think it is worth asking whether the audit of any Latin American election – and not only Latin American – with this level of scrutiny would also have thrown similar irregularities. We will not know because the OAS does not usually reach these levels normally. Therefore, we should not underestimate the importance of the initial lie, because it is what allowed to open a pandora’s box for all the subsequent events.
Beyond this, it is important to be clear that making a list of irregularities is not demonstrating fraud. And here, the fundamental thing to understand is that the OAS could not develop a theory of fraud.
What do you mean by a “fraud theory”?
A thesis, an explanation of what the fraud consists of, how it was done.
Does the OAS present no explanation of the fraud?
What the OAS does is explore several possibilities, but none of the clues that follow thrive. Let’s see. A fraud can be done in several ways. One possibility is to intervene at the computer level, that is, to change the results of the physical records but in the computer system. In fact, the OAS explored that path with its denunciation of the famous hidden server.
The detection of unauthorized access to the computer system?
Yes. But they did not present evidence that this server has been used to alter the election result. In fact, without justifying its existence, there may be several reasons why another server may have been installed. The OAS audit should demonstrate that the server had been used for this purpose.
Isn’t there a way to verify if the server was used for this purpose, if what is in the system is the same as what the physical records say?
Of course it can. And I think it was legitimate to expect an OAS audit to do such a job. The incredible thing is that we just found out in a footnote on page 84 of your audit report, that the OAS made a sample of more than 2,800 voting records, of which almost 900 were analyzed, to match the original electoral material . The note tells us that the auditors moved to five departments to carry out this work and that 230 of those minutes had been burned in opposition protests. But what about the rest of the records? The ones that were analyzed? Were they equal to the count or not? Incredibly, the OAS report does not tell us anything about the result of this analysis.
It is obvious that if they had found differences, this data would not be on a discreet footnote but would be the mother proof of fraud in the report. The fact that the OAS audit did review the minutes, but hid its findings, is extremely dishonest and serious. For me, this fact alone merits a thorough investigation.
You spoke in various ways of fraud. What are the others?
Well, another way is to falsify the minutes themselves, that is, to generate false physical records.
You refer to the falsification of the voting records that attest to the votes in each of the voting tables.
Indeed. And the OAS also explored this avenue. Again, they chose a sample, in this case, of almost 4700 voting records. There were several criteria for the selection of voting records, but one was that they are “suspicious” voting records, that is, disproportionately favoring Morales. In fact, this is also unthinkable for an impartial audit. If you do an audit of an electoral process you cannot be looking to harm one of the candidates more than the other. But that is how it was. Voting records were not reviewed in those tables with an unusual favorable result for Mesa.
The OAS conducted several revisions, including a calligraphy analysis of these 4700 minutes, and determined that, of 226 minutes, the same person had completed two or more minutes, which is irregular: each record must be completed by one person. A Bolivian media outlet even reported that the 226 minutes had been filled by the same person, which is false and would have been much more serious. Actually, there were 85 people who filled 226 minutes, that is, two or more minutes filled out by the same person, but in all cases in the same voting table.
Are we talking about voting centers in rural areas?
Almost 80% of these 226 tables correspond to very small voting centers with a maximum of four tables, in many cases less. We are talking about places where there can be a person who has filled the numbers in the minutes of his table and in the minutes of the table in front. This is what we are talking about. Of course it is an irregularity. But fraud? This denotes a lack of anthropological understanding of certain realities. Or just bad faith.
A lack of anthropological understanding you say?
Yes. I can think of the image of the girl or the boy with the beautiful print to fill the numbers on the two sheets. In fact, it is not the only aspect in which the OAS does not have fine anthropological readings, or if it does, it hides them. The massive vote in favor of Morales in indigenous communities does not necessarily have to be suspicious. It is like not understanding the collective decision-making processes in many places in the Andes, where the vote is often decided in the community.
What other irregularities are indicated by the audit?
Really, there isn’t much else. The audit places a lot of emphasis on the presence of voting records images of the preliminary count, the famous TREP, on the results of the final count, when they should be separate processes. But then, the same audit report let us see that 91% of the voting records of the preliminary count that were included in the results of the final calculation come from voting centers outside Bolivia, which is what the law stipulates. And in the remaining 9%, this use of TREP minutes is because the physical records were burned – in addition and ironically – by the opposition to Morales. Then they used the photos of the voting records of the preliminary count. That is, once again, there is nothing. Pure fireworks, but with what consequences for Bolivia!
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You have been an OAS electoral observer, you were even the head of the OAS MOE in Bolivia itself in the 2017 judicial elections. Therefore, you know how these missions work. According to you, who made the decision to attack the legitimacy of the Bolivian elections despite the absence of strong evidence that this is a vitiated process?
Well, CEPR has not dedicated itself to analyzing decision-making processes within the OAS, which are not at all transparent. In essence, we have analyzed the validity of their technical work. My personal experience of the MOEs, both as a host country when I was Foreign Minister and we had elections observed by the OAS in Ecuador, as well as an observer has not been bad. It is clear that MOEs have important technical capabilities. In the case of Ecuador, I believe that the behavior of the MOE in the 2017 presidential elections was technical. They were tight elections in which the losing presidential candidate wanted to appeal to the possibility of fraud, as usually happens when there are few votes of different …
Are you referring to the candidate Guillermo Lasso and the elections that Lenin Moreno won in 2017?
Yes. Lasso wanted to distort the elections and managed to mobilize a part of his electorate in the streets of Quito. But the OAS stood firm and validated the electoral process. A few months later, an OAS MOE was very critical of the constitutional referendum orchestrated by Lenin Moreno in 2018. They denounced the absence of constitutionality filters, the addressing of questions, and basically how the Ecuadorian government had skipped the Constitutional Court to reform the Constitution.
Now it is also true that there have been times when OAS MOEs have not done a good job; for example, in the Haitian presidential election of 2011, which is remembered as a dark page in the history of electoral observation. And I believe that it is the destiny that the Bolivian case will have, but I think that, with greater consequences on the OAS and its legitimacy, given the political outcome it had, the South American political context that is most in dispute.
The point, and this seems very important to me, is that MOEs cannot be serious, rigorous and impartial sometimes, or most of the time, not even almost always. They have to be rigorous and impartial at all times, without exception. And what has happened with the MOE in Bolivia is very worrying. This should have generated a serious institutional crisis. We should be witnessing an exhaustive investigation of what happened, with a review of all processes, requests from member states for greater transparency, etc. And yet none of this is happening.
And the deployed electoral observers are, in some way, partners in this manipulation by the OAS?
No. It is important to understand how an MOE works. In the mission in Bolivia, 92 electoral observers were deployed. The vast majority of these observers are hired by the OAS for the MOE. They usually come from the world of politics, from academia or have specific technical skills that the MOE needs. These observers tend to be very good professionals and do a great job. Everyone has their function. Some have to analyze the legal part, others the IT issue, others are deployed in territory to observe what happens in the polling places. Everyone reports from their role, is attentive to the requirements of the head of mission, and at the end of the process sends his report with everything he has observed. Of course everyone should point out the irregularities they have detected. The role of an electoral observation is precisely to collect and synthesize all this information to make important recommendations. In several cases, the electoral observations have been very useful so that the electoral authorities of the countries can improve their processes.
But it is also important to understand that reporting is a very centralized process. The vast majority of observers do not participate in it. They send their inputs and period. The process of writing the report is, in theory, in the hands of the head of mission, but it is often the specialists of the DECO [Department for Electoral Cooperation and Observation], that is, the OAS plant staff, who writes the first draft for consideration by the head of mission, who in turn is a person outside the organization, invited for the task of leading the team. Depending on how experienced or clever the head of mission is, control over the report and what is included or excluded from it, is essentially the DECO, that is, the OAS. That’s fine as long as they don’t cheat.
Do you think there was interference from the OAS Secretary General in the process of observing the elections in Bolivia?
It’s possible. This is precisely what an investigation should determine, an audit. Finding out should also be the work of investigative journalism. Unfortunately there has been little interest.
Now it is clear that Almagro’s hostility against Morales, the fact that he did not care about the role of the military in the “transition”, nor the violations of human rights, all this leads us to suspect more. The end result of all this is that he has at least one more vote for his candidacy for re-election in March. And it is clear that double standards on these issues are terrible. With Honduras, where there was a clear fraud, Almagro did not insist, and here where there is none, he attacked with everything.
Was it an attack planned in advance?
Not necessarily. I suspect that things were emerging little by little. They were able to take advantage of the fact that the margin of the 10 points was tight – about 40,000 votes above the 10% difference for Morales. And this, coupled with the strong political polarization in Bolivia, generated favorable conditions for a regime change also supported by the US. Remember that Almagro was very attacked by the Latin American right when in May 2019 he went to Bolivia and offered an MOE for the presidential elections. Now Almagro is at peace with a part of the regional right with which he had distanced himself and gained the support of the Trump administration, when we know that there was a lot of resistance to his re-election in the State Department.
But beyond Almagro, it is likely that several factors have come together. The issue of curbing presidential re-election has become an important leitmotif for many officials in the OAS. It is one of the major issues in the organization, and apparently of greater concern than the coup d’etats that occur with impunity in our region.
Do you refer to the rejection in the OAS of the interpretation given by some countries that re-election is a right …
Exactly. This idea that Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights means that re-election is a right of political participation.
And in the case of Bolivia, this discomfort with the re-election was exacerbated by the decision of the Plurinational Constitutional Court to allow re-election despite the results of the January 2016 referendum …
Definitely. This has generated a lot of outrage. And it is likely that, to some extent, more or less surreptitiously, this outrage has diminished the impartiality of the MOE in the Bolivian elections. A hostility of origin if you want. But I insist, they are suspicions and speculations. This should be proven or ruled out with a thorough investigation of what happened.
The point is that whatever the feeling is on the issue of reelection in Bolivia, an MOE can not raise doubts about the election results without having evidence that the popular will expressed at the polls has been disrespected. One thing is to point out that there is discomfort on the part of certain sectors of the population with the re-election. (In fact, the MOE that I directed in Bolivia in 2017 clearly indicated that it was likely that this malaise had an impact on the high percentage of zero vote in the judicial elections of that year). Another thing is to generate a story about fraud without any evidence, especially when this story becomes a determining factor in triggering a coup d’etat.
Has the OAS reacted to CEPR reports?
Officially, nothing. Unofficially: there is a lot of nervousness. They know that technically what they have done has no defense, and that it is very serious. They do not answer questions from the press. They have not even answered the questions that several congressmen from the United States, a member of the organization, sent them formally. They have locked themselves in.
Have they not resorted to any argument to counteract criticisms?
None. Its strategy has been to hide behind the argument that they are the OAS, the only holders of knowledge, the only technicians. In fact, the final audit report is made to scare away and confuse any reader and repel the scrutiny of journalists. They attached hundreds of pages of annexes to give the impression that there is much evidence, when there is none. If something we have achieved since the CEPR on this occasion, it is to demonstrate that it is time for the OAS member states, and the media in general, to exercise their right to request that the organization be accountable and transparent its action.
Featured image: Photo by Vincent Plagniol
Translated by JRE/EF