CARACAS, Venezuela, Aug. 21 -- The results of an audit support the official vote count showing that President Hugo Chavez won this month's recall referendum, the head of the Organization of American States said Saturday.
Venezuelan election officials, along with observers from the OAS and the Atlanta-based Carter Center, conducted the audit by inspecting ballots from 150 voting stations to dispel opposition claims of fraud during the Aug. 15 referendum.
"With this process concluded, we think the results released by the National Elections Council are compatible with the check we have done," OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria said. "In our opinion, the type of check used in this audit of the electronic system doesn't leave us much doubt regarding the result."
Gaviria did not provide specific details of the audit result. According to the official results, Chavez captured 59 percent of the vote.
The recall vote came after three years of violence and political unrest, including a three-month general strike launched by the opposition in December 2002 that paralyzed oil exports and cost the nation an estimated $7.5 billion. Violence has erupted periodically, with 19 people killed in an anti-Chavez protest shortly before the president was ousted in a short-lived coup in 2002, and 12 people slain during anti-government riots in March.
Opposition leaders refused to participate in the audit, saying the methodology was inadequate and would fail to detect fraud. They claim that touch-screen voting machines at hundreds of polling stations produced the same number of "yes" votes in favor of ousting Chavez, indicating that the machines were rigged to impose a ceiling on anti-Chavez votes.
"It's evident that the opposition has huge doubts" regarding the results, said Gaviria. "We cannot say categorically there was not fraud, we are saying we didn't find it."