OAS audit of Bolivian election finds evidence of systematic fraud

The final OAS audit on the Bolivian election of Oct. 20 has determined the Morales government engaged in massive and deliberate fraud to prevent an opposition victory. The findings are being welcomed by Canada as a vindication of its position supporting the caretaker government of Jeanine Añez.

Report bolsters allegations that Evo Morales tried to steal his country's election

Bolivia's interim President Jeanine Añez looks up during a press conference in La Paz, Bolivia, on Nov. 15. Añez, a Senate deputy leader, is moving to establish authority in the turbulent country. (Natacha Pisarenko/The Associated Press)

The Organization of American States' audit into Bolivia's disputed election leaves little room for doubt that there was a concerted and large-scale effort to subvert the vote and deliver victory to the ruling party, Evo Morales's Movement to Socialism (MAS).

Two forensic auditors from the Canada Border Services Agency were part of the OAS team that analyzed Bolivian election records, servers and polling station reports following the disputed election of Oct. 20. 

Canada also contributed $500,000 to cover the costs of the audit.

In all there were 36 experts from 18 countries in the hemisphere, including "electoral attorneys, statisticians, IT experts, document specialists, handwriting experts, experts in chain of custody and experts in electoral organization," according to the OAS. They began their work on Nov. 1.

The audit was supported both by governments that backed Morales, such as Mexico, and by others that have recognized a caretaker administration led by Jeanine Añez, such as the United States.

The report includes allegations that pro-Morales election officials diverted the flow of data on ballots cast from the official servers of the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal to two secret servers.

"This parallel and uncontrolled technological network, that was created deliberately, permitted the manipulation of data, the substitution of returns, or any other manoeuvre, facilitated by the volatility of the digital evidence," says the report, which is in Spanish only.

"The controls of the auditing agency were intentionally evaded and traffic was redirected to a network that was not subject to management, administration, control and monitoring by personnel of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal."

Revolt and overthrow

Bolivia's election ended in turmoil when crowds took to the streets to protest what they saw as a government ploy to evade defeat, when the electoral tribunal suddenly stopped reporting results and went dark for 24 hours.

Before the stoppage, the gap between Morales and his main rival Carlos Mesa had been too narrow to avoid a second round of voting, which Morales was likely to lose. When the publication of results resumed, Morales's percentage had increased and the final result announced his lead was just wide enough to avoid a second round.

Former president Evo Morales was granted asylum in Mexico. The leader of Bolivia's interim government says he will not be allowed to run in new elections. (Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

By that point, police officers in Cochabamba had thrown in their lot with the anti-Morales crowds on the streets, and the revolt soon overpowered the government.

An interim administration under Sen. Jeanine Añez assumed power with the backing of the army and announced it would hold new elections within 90 days. 

Canada, after some hesitation, gave lukewarm backing to the Añez administration on condition that it lives up to its promise of new elections that are free and fair.

Findings bolster Añez — and Canada

The government that emerged from the turmoil after the election was widely denounced as the product of a coup d'état.

The Trudeau government faced criticism at home for not supporting  Morales. A Globe and Mail editorial accused it of throwing democracy "to the lions" in Bolivia.

On Monday, the Trudeau government reacted to the final audit findings as a vindication of its position on the election. 

"As its interim report previously catalogued, the final report of the audit shows extensive and systemic manipulation of the October presidential election results," Adam Austen, spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, told CBC News.

"Alongside like-minded partners like the EU, the work of the OAS electoral co-operation and observation branch has Canada's full support, and we stand ready to support the people of Bolivia and their democratic rights. Free, fair and inclusive elections must be held as soon as possible. Consistent with the Bolivian constitution, Canada supports a temporary caretaker administration to prepare for these new elections."

Auditors had issued a preliminary finding on Nov. 10, citing grave irregularities, that led Morales to promise new elections, and the replacement of MAS party loyalists who had been promoted to senior positions at the electoral tribunal. But by then his government was crumbling, and he fled for Mexico about 36 hours later.

Even before voting began, there was a climate of suspicion in Bolivia due partly to a series of dismissals, replacements and appointments of people affiliated with the ruling party to the electoral tribunal and the Civil Registry Service. Individuals in those government agencies were implicated in the fraud by OAS auditors.

Audit details numerous violations

The auditors broke their findings into four categories: "Deliberate actions that sought to manipulate the outcome of the elections," "grave irregularities" where intent could not be proven, "mistakes or errors" where there was no sign of intent but which  exposed the system to manipulation, and "statistical analysis" that allowed the group of auditors to detect abnormalities.

The report details abundant examples of all four.

It says that when Bolivian authorities suddenly resumed the vote count after the unexplained hiatus, the breakdown of the new votes was different.

The audit dismisses the claim by Morales's supporters that this happened because the last votes counted came from heavily Indigenous rural areas where Morales is popular. Auditors found that votes from similar areas, tallied before the sudden stoppage, were less favourable to MAS.

The auditors pointed the finger of blame directly at individual appointees in the country's electoral authority.

"The detailed findings reveal the partiality of the electoral authority," says the document. "The scrutineers of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, who were supposed to ensure the legality and integrity of the process, allowed the flow of information to be diverted to external servers, destroying all confidence in the electoral process."

It also confirmed that an outside user who controlled a Linux AMI appliance with "root privileges" — conferring the ability to alter results — accessed the official vote-counting server during the counting.

Auditors also found that in a sample of 4,692 returns from polling stations around the country, 226 showed multiple signatures by the same person for different voting booths, a violation of electoral law. On those returns, 91 per cent of votes went to MAS, approximately double the rate recorded elsewhere.

The new Bolivian government has arrested the president of the tribunal, María Eugenia Choque, and several other officials accused of taking part in the fraud.


Evan Dyer

Senior Reporter

Evan Dyer has been a journalist with CBC for 18 years, after an early career as a freelancer in Argentina. He works in the Parliamentary Bureau and can be reached at evan.dyer@cbc.ca.


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