(First, immediate-reaction post election post)
A recent Latinobarometro poll (a polling firm based in Chile) has once again found that Venezuelans, on average, have more faith in democracy than any other national group questioned (link, with more links en español aquí http://www.borev.net/2008/11/again_with_the_venezuelans_and.html)..and today was certainly no exception in the now twelve (12!!!) elections that have taken place in "the Chávez era..."
Cutting to the Chase Department: The local and regional elections resulted in an at best mixed result for the PSUV. At the gubernatorial level (the only numbers I have at the moment) the PSUV took 17 of 23 seats. Two governorships are, as of 3:00 am Caracas time, too close to call. The problem is that the Chavistas lost Miranda state – part of which includes sectors of Caracas – and failed to gain Zulia – center of petroleum production in the country. Even worse, the states that hang in the balance are Tachira and Carabobo. Tachira shares a border with Zulia and Colombia in the west of the country. Carabobo is a chief center of Venezuelan industry: tires, petrochemicals, paper, and more. If the opposition gains the former, the possibility of a ‘media luna’ situation a la Bolivia’s separatist movement is quite real. If they take Carabobo, they then have an opportunity to grab the purse strings of the revolution.
Caracas Department: Also announced this evening were the results of the two city level positions in the capital that Chavistas hoped to retain: Libertador (one of the city’s largest municipalities) and the ‘Alcaldía Mayor’ (Caracas has 6 mayors, 5 for the municipalities that make up the city, and one ‘city mayor’ – both were previously in Chavista hands). The PSUV candidate for the Libertador race, Jorge Rodriguez, won. The problem is that he is rather solidly a face of the ‘internal right’ of Chavismo, i.e., his revolutionary credentials and his vision of where the country needs to go are decidedly wanting. The PSUV candidate for Alcaldía Mayor, Aristobúlo Istúriz, lost. This was a major blow. Not only has he been saying all the right things throughout the campaign – about the necessity of ‘deepening’ the revolution, a key phrase for radical Chavistas – he was seen by many as a possible successor to Chávez should the fight for his reelection fail to bear fruit. A possible silver lining to this major, major loss is that Diosdado Cabello, current governor of Miranda state and perhaps THE person who best defines the ‘endogenous right’ lost, meaning his political aspirations have suffered a significant setback.
Turnout Department: I spent the entire day on the pavement, doing my own work and sending field reports to the good folks at http://radiovenezuelaenvivo.blogspot.com -- and for future events, if you dare, these are the folks to listen to on the interweb about all things venezuelan), walking across the city center and back and then halfway back again. Of the voting centers visited, lines were consistently various magnitudes of huge. Opposition and middle-of-the-road media all warned of a major ‘tropical depression’ that was soon to add to the city and country’s woes. This was a potentially dangerous thing, as the PSUV’s greatest foe in these elections was always going to be abstention (which is what caused the failed reforma last December). But the inundation didn’t show. Despite the heat and the often direct sunlight, folks in their lines seemed calm – annoyed at the wait, for sure, but not stone-throwing annoyed.
I went to vote with a friend of mine. We stood in line for over 2 hours. However, when her time finally came, she was in and out in 5 minutes. The wait gave us plenty of time to compare US and Venezuelan electoral systems, during which time I tried my best to explain to her the Electoral College. I quickly realized how difficult that particular institution is to explain in English, let alone Spanish.
All told, 65.45% of eligible voters turned out. A record.
End of the Day Department: After walking the city, I somehow magically ended up in the PSUV press headquarters. And I ended up there for six (6) hours. It was good to have a finger directly on the pulse of the situation, if a bit boring during the intervals between statements from Alberto Müller Rojas, the PSUV’s octogenarian (and fully kick-ass) vice president. I smoked too many cigarettes, talked to too many members of the opposition media (they still suck), and my dogs is tired!
The High and the Low Department: Of course, the Low/FUCK THE PO-LICE first. Rather early in the day, while I was checking out polling places in a relatively middle-class part of town, I got stopped for a ‘routine drugs and alcohol search’ by two members of the Caracas police. The ‘dry laws’ (written about in a previous post) have been enforced a helluva lot more than I ever could have imagined, knowing Caracas. OF COURSE you can find something somewhere if you look, but I haven’t encountered the same quantity of dudes drinking beer in their cars or walking down the street to which I’ve become accustomed.
Anyway, while one cop was checking my water bottle, his partner nicked BsF. 100 (I dunno...~$US 20) out of my ‘emergency pocket’ – always a good idea to keep money in a few places on your person whilst traveling, right? Just to be clear, let me repeat that: I got robbed by the police. I’m that effing gringo. The great thing is that every Venezuelan to whom I told my tale of woe responded almost 100% in the same manner: “Those motherfuckers. Fuck them. Assholes. Of course, that happens a lot.”
High point: whilst at the PSUV press conference, just after the national electoral council announced the results, the place started swarming with GI JOEs. I thought something was amiss. When I asked a friend, he responded rather matter-of-factly, “Chávez is probably coming.”
And everyone else had the same intuition. A gauntlet quickly formed, with inner-circle folks forming a human chain to keep up the barriers on either side. We moved to the aisle that was formed, and sure enough, 15 minutes later, doors opened and out came Chávez, surrounded by security and scrambling reporters. (I have photos, but left the connecting cable for camera-computer in California…I’ll post a pile when I get back in touch with it…) long story short:
Me: “Epale hermano presidente”
Chávez: (grasping my outstretched hand) “Epale, hermano”
The president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, one Mister Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías shook the hand of the dirtiest gringo in the room. I tried to get a comment from the President, to gauge how he was affected by the situation, but he was too awestruck by the honor bestowed upon him to express himself properly.
And in other news, here’s the state-by-state breakdown as we have it now:
Delta Amacuro chavismo
Nueva Esparta opposition
Alcaldia Mayor opposition
Carabobo and Tachira too close to declare winner
"Chávez Supporters Win 17 out of 23 Venezuelan States, but Lose 3 Most Populous"