Monday, August 16, 2004

Hugo Chávez Frias' Landslide Victory

Now that the votes are counted, it is clear that Hugo Chávez Frias won a landslide victory in the August 15 referendum in Venezuela:
With 94 percent of the votes counted, Chavez had 58 percent of the vote and the opposition 42 percent, according to Francisco Carrasquero, president of the National Elections Council. . . .

Carrasquero said 4,991,483 votes were cast against recalling the former army paratrooper, and 3,576,517 in favor. (Andrew Selsky/The Associated Press, "Carter Endorses Chavez Win in Venezuela," August 16, 2004)

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez celebrate in fornt of Miraflores Palace in Caracas, August 16, 2004. Venezuela's National Electoral Council announced to the nation preliminary official results showing that President Hugo Chavez had survived the recall vote. A spokesman said the 'No' option opposing Chavez's recall had obtained just over 58 percent of the vote, while the 'Yes' vote obtained nearly 42 percent. (REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez)
Even Jimmy "Carter and the head of the Organization of American States, who led observer teams, said the voting appeared clean" (Selsky, August 16, 2004). Nevertheless, Juan Forero of the New York Times, as anti-Chávez as ever, is spinning furiously to discount the victory of the Venezuelan masses: "But the voting, if anything, showed clearly that millions of Venezuelans -- not just the very rich, as Mr. Chávez contends -- want him out" ("Chávez Is Declared the Winner in Venezuela Referendum," August 16, 2004).


The number of eligible voters in Venezuela is roughly 14 million. That means that approximately 26% of the eligible Venezuelan voters voted SI, in favor of recalling Chavez. That's more or less in keeping with the proportion of the rich and comfortable in Venezuela.

Also, keep in mind that, like most nations in the world, Venezuela has traditionally had high rates of working-class abstention and disenfranchisement -- the problems that Bolivarians have made efforts to correct but probably have yet to fully remedy:
As the August 15 recall referendum on President Chavez's mandate approaches, pro-government sectors have complained to Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) about the disparity in the number of voting centers between working-class and wealthier neighborhoods.

During a press conference last Tuesday, Jorge Rodriguez, member of the board of directors of the CNE, expressed his "indignation due to the absolutely lack of democracy, lack of justice, and of equality with regard to the distribution of voting centers."

Rodriguez, who is serving at the CNE since late last year, when Venezuela's Supreme Court appointed him and other directors to lead the elections commission, criticized the way the voting centers have traditionally been set up, especially in big urban centers. After reviewing the voting centers' distribution by zone and population in Caracas and other cities, Rodriguez concluded that their unequal distribution amounts to discrimination against the poor.

A high percentage the population of the valley of Caracas, who live in shanty towns built in the city's hills, must travel long distances to find their assigned voting place as none is located in those hills, according to Rodriguez.

"In Las Minas de Baruta (a predominantly working-class zone outside Caracas), there are 25.000 citizens registered to vote, but only 4 voting centers. In the same municipality, in El Cafetal (a middle, and upper-middle class sector), there are 40.000 registered voters, and 40 voting centers."

Rodriguez also mentioned the case of El Paraiso, a middle-class neighborhood in southwestern Caracas, with 14 voting centers. The working-class neighborhood next to it, La Cota 905, with a similar population, only has only one voting center.

"This situation repeats itself throughout the country, and it clearly violates the principles of equality of rights, especially human rights as expressed by the Constitution," said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez announced that, in response to this problem, the CNE started a study to determine where new voting places could be opened "so that all citizens have equal opportunity to exercise their voting rights."

“The United States has the same problem in the South,” said a Hector Madera, a reporter for Negro Primero community radio, who covered Rodriguez’s press conference. “But the goal of the dominant classes there is to prevent poor blacks and Hispanics from voting, and artificially causing long lines is one of the tactics they use as people get discouraged from voting,” Madera said.

Government officials and pro-government political commentators have also complained about the fact that opinion polls are inaccurate as polling companies don't take into account poor areas of the cities.

The 40% -- 50% of the population which according to some polls approve of Chavez's presidency is concentrated in working-class zones. These zones traditionally have high abstention rates, as an important percentage of their inhabitants who are eligible to vote, don’t have non-expired ID cards or are not registered to vote.

Part of the government's strategy is to get the poor to get or renew their national ID card, and to register to vote. “It hurts them that we are finally issuing ID cards for the poor,” said Chavez last night during his new weekly radio program “Patrolling with Chavez”. “Everybody has the right to vote, to participate, and to ratify mandates. This is a participatory democracy,” said Chavez.

Venezuelans traditionally have to stand in line for several hours to have their ID cards issued or renewed, and then wait several months to get receive their cards. Since last year, the government has set up ID card centers at special locations, and it is using modern machines that allow citizens to obtain their cards in minutes.

("Venezuela's Discrimination of Poor Voters Prompts Measures,", June 17, 2004)
Considering the aforementioned problems that the Bolivarian government inherited, we may say that Chávez's victory is truly a landslide, clearly the fruit of drives to register voters and naturalize immigrants of the working class.

Venezuela's "Misión Identidad" (Mission Identity) will continue after the referendum as well:
El ministro de Interior y Justicia, Lucas Rincón Romero informó que con el acto que se realizó este martes en el Coliseo de La Urbina donde se juramentó a 6 mil 763 extranjeros como nuevos venezolanos, comenzó la segunda etapa de este proceso que se extenderá hasta el día 3 de enero del año 2005.

Aún quedan muchísimas personas de otros países hermanos que quieren ser naturalizados, y estamos en el día de hoy retomando este proceso que forma parte de la Misión Identidad, dijo el ministro.

Recordó que en una reunión de ministros se aprobó extender hasta el venidero año este plan de naturalización y cedulación a los extranjeros, en vista de la gran cantidad de ciudadanos que todavía están aspirando a convertirse en venezolanos. (Sonia Verger/Venpress, "Juramentados 6 mil 763 nuevos naturalizados," August 10, 2004)
A great boon to both immigrants and the Bolivarian Revolution!

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