Press Release on Disinformation Campaign Regarding the Role of the OAS in the Bolivian Elections
June 16, 2020
In recent days, a malicious campaign of disinformation against the OAS regarding its role in Bolivia’s last elections has been mounted with obvious political objectives. As part of that campaign, the OAS was even asked to validate the results of Bolivia’s General Elections on October 20, 2019. In that regard, the General Secretariat wishes to state that the validation of results is an exclusive power of the national authorities accredited by their current constitutional order. It is up to Bolivians alone to determine their sovereign decisions.
The press releases and articles in question show not only great confusion about the sequence of events that led to president Morales’ resignation, but also a biased, self-serving intent to generate more disinformation about it, to ignore the facts (not always with bad intentions, since we must recognize that in some cases there is real ignorance by people who have not been near Bolivia for at least a year), and to ignore the reality of the Bolivian electoral process and its circumstances (very conveniently for the purposes of their arguments) in the midst of an electoral campaign currently under way in Bolivia. That is another affront to the country’s sovereignty and a serious political misstep.
As it has stated on previous occasions, the General Secretariat of the OAS (GS/OAS) has been and will always be open to serious, rigorous and professional debate regarding the findings of its specialists. In recent months, multiple analyses, both journalistic and academic, have been published on the election in Bolivia.
In one particular case, the report containing the most contradictions and inaccuracies was cited. Curiously, that report also has a marked ideological leaning; this combination shows a commendable apparent loyalty to former president Evo Morales but it strays from the truth and leads the authors to make serious political errors.
In their eagerness to justify the result of the election, the authors go so far as to offer an explanation based on the supposedly indigenous surnames of some voters, which, in addition to being absolutely speculative and ignoring the secrecy of the vote, could be described as racist and typical of a colonialist point of view.
Similarly, when comparing the Bolivian election with early voting in the United States and the Brazilian elections, the researchers display a profound ignorance both of the enormous differences between those electoral systems and of the contexts in which the elections took place. To try to justify a result in Bolivia based on a trend seen in one of those other countries, while deliberately ignoring the strong evidence of fraud, is an exercise in academic mythomania.
The main weakness of those statistical studies is that their entire analysis is based on two false premises:
- The first false premise is to assume that the results reported in the official count were valid. As the Report of the audit conducted by the OAS group of experts proved, and as is being confirmed by subsequent investigations by the Office of the Bolivian Attorney General, there were tally sheets that were (1) pre-filled, (2) forged, (3) adulterated, and (4) modified; therefore, any analysis based on the validity of those results is neither reliable nor remotely credible. That information is flawed from the outset. It is worth remembering that, just in the sample with which the OAS audit team worked, 226 tally sheets were to have serious irregularities, which “coincidently” corresponded to tables where candidate Morales obtained 91 percent of the votes.
- The second false premise is to assume that the statistical analysis shows or does not show fraud as opposed to be an indicative element of the supposed existence of irregularities. As any election expert would know, it should be borne in mind that a statistical analysis alone does not validate or prove fraud, but simply gives indications of where to look more closely. The authors of the study in question themselves told the New York Times (NYT) that their research did not prove that the elections were free and fair, and that there were multiple problems during the elections that have been documented.1 The “multiple problems” are falsified tally sheets, secret servers, and voting by deceased persons.
Even with all the shortcomings and biases in their study, the authors admit: “Our analysis does not establish the absence of fraud in this election; that could never be determined based on quantitative analysis alone. The quantitative results that we revisit formed just one part of the OAS’s case against the integrity of the Bolivian election. Their team presented evidence of secret servers, improperly completed tally sheets, undisclosed late-night software modifications, and myriad other reasons for suspicion.”2
Mindful of the limitations inherent in this type of statistical exercise, the OAS audit team labeled the conclusions of the quantitative analysis itself as “indicative elements,” and placed them in fourth place on a list of findings that included “deliberate actions that sought to manipulate the outcome of the election,” as well as “serious irregularities” and “errors.”
In other words, the statistical study conducted by the OAS did not seek to validate or challenge the results, but rather to identify abnormal or suspicious behavior in the trends, in order to guide the work of the other audit teams, which found incontrovertible evidence of manipulation of the election: secret computer servers with the capacity to modify the results, and adulterated tally sheets. Therefore, the General Secretariat of the OAS continues to stand behind the statistical analysis carried out, understanding that its usefulness was only of an instrumental nature within the overall review of the elections.
It should also be noted that even a group of politicians with obvious ideological affinity for former president Evo Morales and other critical voices repeatedly demonstrate their lack of knowledge by citing the statistical study of the audit and deliberately confusing it with the work carried out by the Electoral Observation Mission of the OAS (EOM/OAS). As has been stated countless times, they were different analyses carried out by different teams and completely independent of each other.
It should be recalled that the EOM conducted a quick count on the night of the elections. Until the moment of the unprecedented suspension of the Preliminary Results Transmission (TREP, for its Spanish acronym) system, the data published by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE, by its Spanish acronym) coincided with the Mission and with the other two counts being done by civil society organizations, indicating a very clear trend towards a second round. After a suspicious interruption that lasted almost 24 hours, without a consistent or credible explanation of what had happened, the TSE restarted the TREP and released a consolidated result that conveniently consecrated the government’s candidate as the winner in the first round. Both the OAS and the European Union warned of the doubts raised by the actions of the TSE.
It is important to remember that the following day, the vice president of the TSE, Antonio José Iván Costas Sitic, who was in charge of the TREP, presented his resignation, citing “the unwise decision of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to suspend publication of the results of the [TREP],”3 which “resulted in the discrediting of the entire electoral process, causing unnecessary social upheaval.”4
The OAS audit subsequently revealed that there was no technical reason behind the interruption of the TREP and that information corresponding to almost 6 percent of the tally sheets, which had already been processed at the time of the suspension, had been withheld from the public but their results were not published. There is no defense for such an exercise in concealment and falsehood.
In a desperate attempt to “wash away” the electoral fraud that was unsuccessfully attempted in Bolivia and to generate the perception that there is more than one study that supports its position, reference is made to a self-described “think tank” that is, in essence, nothing more than a “propaganda tank” devoted to the defense of illegitimate governments in the region, including those of Venezuela and Cuba.
It is not the intention of this press release to disqualify the so called “think tank” because it is not through the undermining of the other that you argue the truth of the facts. However, the appearance of “seriousness” that is intended to imprint on this campaign attributing the authorship to Universities or “professional teams” oblige us to unmask those who are pushing this disinformation campaign forward. Such references are not surprising since they are nothing more than the same horse with a different saddle.
In short, it is an institution that lacks technical expertise due to its scant experience in electoral matters, that, without having been present in Bolivia, offers explanations that disregard facts and evidence from computer handwriting experts; we recognize it as commendable effort of political propaganda based on very adverse facts, evidence and conclusions.
This “think tank” goes into the realm of tragicomedy by suggesting, for example, that the manipulation of a parallel and secret computer system was done to “correct errors” and that it was an acceptable action, despite the fact that, strictly speaking, they were completely illegal acts that reversed the decisions of departmental courts. Such an argument would be laughable had this not been done at a very high cost to the Bolivian people.
That study also fails to point out that the TSE’s own internal audit classified the election as invalid simply on the basis of the manipulation of the computer infrastructure, let alone the evidence of large numbers of forged tally sheets later revealed by the OAS. The “think tank’s” researchers even go so far as to give their opinion on the matter, despite never having had any contact with a single tally sheet. For those who defend democracy it is a sick joke.
There is nothing incredible about such people defending an election even after all these actions carried out with the aim of altering the election result have been proven based on evidence: they have a clear political purpose.
In this context of deliberate attempts to sow confusion by means of “reports” crafted with a political agenda, it is important to remember that the conclusions of the OAS experts, who worked in situ, have been backed by serious, neutral institutions such as the European Union (EU) Observation Mission. In its report on the elections of October 20, the EU considered that “the TSE’s decisions combined with their failure to provide explanations for their decisions or for the change of results, irrevocably damaged trust in the results process.”5
One might also cite the research carried out by Edgar Villegas in Bolivia or by Rómulo Chumacero of the University of Chile, whose conclusions also coincide with those of the OAS team.
To the previous list could be added the work of Rodrigo Salazar in Mexico or the report by Ethical Hacking, a company that audited the transmission of results at the request of TSE itself and considered the entire process flawed by the sum of irregularities detected.
Other studies that support the OAS position include one by John Newman, former World Bank economist and senior statistician, who said the Organization was right to question the integrity of Bolivia’s 2019 general elections; or research by academics Diego Escobarri and Gary A. Hoover of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, who estimated the extent of October’s fraud.
It is worth noting that in the face of a study that questions the findings of the audit team, the academic community has responded with multiple, truly independent analyses that support the audit’s conclusions. None of those studies have been questioned, which proves that they were not acting out of a commitment to truth but out of purely political interest. They have concocted a narrative of disinformation primarily aimed at attacking the Organization and seeking to change the perception of reality. The General Secretariat is not in the habit of answering all the lies or falsehoods that are published, nor is it our job to correct the errors that are perpetrated by any entity or person, but democracy is at stake here, so it will not stand idly and allow such trafficking in lies, falsehoods, errors, or plain ignorance.
Bolivia confirms the technical rigor of the OAS team; the evidence collected by more than 100 experts deployed in the field by the Organization is overwhelming, and academics with expertise in electoral matters, as well as other international organizations, have recognized as much.
In order to remind the public of the aim of the OAS’ participation in the electoral process in Bolivia, the General Secretariat considers it necessary to reiterate known information about the framework under which the OAS has acted in this particular case.