Accessibility links

Venezuelans Vote in Recall Referendum - 2004-08-15

There are long lines at polling stations in Venezuela where a recall referendum will determine whether President Hugo Chavez will remain in power, or be forced from office. Long delays in the voting process could cast doubt on the outcome.

Delays at polling stations have been caused by a lengthy process of identification for each voter that includes a fingerprint scanner. In many places, voters say they have been standing in line for hours, with little movement in the line.

Caracas voters say they have been in line for several hours, and are still not even in sight of the polling station. They say they will stay, however, because it is their constitutional right to vote.

Turnout has been heavy both in neighborhoods where there is support for President Chavez and in areas where his opponents predominate.

Observers from the Organization of American States, or OAS, and the Atlanta-based Carter Center are on hand at many polling sites. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria met with President Chavez Saturday. Mr. Carter says the controversial Venezuelan leader is prepared to accept defeat if it comes.

"President Chavez assured me and Mr. Gaviria that he will immediately accept the results," he said.

Both Chavez supporters and opponents cite recent polls showing their side winning, and there is concern that elements from whichever side loses could promote violence. Cesar Gaviria says he hopes the Venezuelan Electoral Council will release results as soon as possible after the voting ends.

He said it is very important to have results known as quickly as possible, because, when there is a delay that cannot be easily explained, questions about the process emerge.

Venezuela, the world's fifth largest oil producer, has been deeply divided by the Chavez presidency, since he came to power in 1998. He survived a coup attempt in April 2002, and an opposition-led national strike later that same year that largely shut down the nation's vital oil industry for several weeks.

Mr. Chavez says he represents the poor, who, in the past, have not benefited from the country's oil revenue, while opponents accuse him of trying to establish a Cuba-style communist dictatorship. The fate of his government is now in the hands of voters, with results expected within hours after all votes have been cast.