Venezuela is a land of contradictions, a sweet land of ups and downs, of backwards and forwards, of racing cars and paralyzing traffic, of red and white, of black and white, of extreme poverty and extravagant wealth, of plurality and division, of truth and lies, of participation and manipulation, and last weekend things become a little bit more defined.
The showdown is clear, there is very little grey, and the marches held in Caracas last weekend by the two major candidates, Democratically-elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Zulia state governor Manuel Rosales, highlighted the country’s polarity and opinion.
“In one week, we’ll send him to Cuba!” chanted Rosales supporters about Chavez on Saturday, while heading east with the opposition march towards the Francisco Fajardo Freeway.
“Uh ah, Chavez isn’t going anywhere!” chanted Chavez supporters at the half a million strong concentration on Bolivar Avenue in Caracas.
The divisions in Venezuelan society are not new, but they are working in ways not seen in Venezuela since the 2004 Recall Referendum. Chavez supporters dressed in red, took advantage of the Sunday concentration to walk freely in to the Rosales territory of Altamira and Eastern Caracas. Rosales supporters dressed in his campaign colors—red, white, and blue—chanted their way into and along the metro-line, which runs east and west through the city.
Stark divisions, so strong that it is difficult to reconcile them. A discussion with Rosales supporters of the upper-middle class turns Chavez in to a dictatorial tyrant, who is stealing from the country, giving away the nation’s riches to foreign countries, destroying democracy, using fraud to win his elections, and attempting to set up a system of Socialism of the 21st century, which Manuel Rosales says will eliminate professional sports in Venezuela, “brainwash their children” and send them off to foreign wars, tell residents what to eat and wear and will leave Venezuela’s citizens in ruin. Chavez, synonymous with fraudulent, divider, divisive, bellicose, communist.
On the other side of the city, less than 24 hours later, Chavez is the only person in the world that could bring change to this repressive and undemocratic, unequal and unjust society. Chavez has brought true democratic power to the people, he has offered socialized health care and doctors when before there where none, he has taught us to read, to write, he has given us the tools to get a job, form a business, a cooperative, inspired us, enabled us to organize, and made us believe in ourselves when before we blindfolded. Chavez has incorporated the marginalized in to society. Chavez speaks for the people, cares about the people and it is Chavez who we want in power, until 2021, until 2099, for life!
Rosales, meanwhile, for his supporters, is salvation; he is a breath of fresh air, real democracy, and real social justice. Rosales is union, unity; Rosales is 26 million Venezuelans, not just 10 million votes. Rosales is security, he is going to actually give the riches from the oil profits directly to the people, and he is going to eliminate violence, poverty and corruption.
Or maybe not, says Venezuela’s poor. Rosales is as anti-democratic as they come. He signed the Carmona decree and pledged “all of [Zulia’s] support” to the leaders of the April 2002 coup against President Chavez. He talks about justice and poverty elimination, and toes a slightly leftist line, while being backed by the elite and the business community. He wants to privatize Venezuela. He wants to eliminate the social programs. Rosales is the candidate not just of the opposition, but of the empire. Rosales, in the pocket of the United States. Rosales, destabilizer, fraudulent, capitalist, divider, coup plotter, agent of the US government, who wants to roll back on the process, cut off relations from Cuba and bring back the policies of free trade and neoliberalism that set the “time-bomb” ticking in the first place.
If you live in a democratic country, you are used to this dichotomy, you are used to this polarization, but perhaps nowhere else is it so stark, so absolute, so destructive, so irreconcilable.
And so, as Venezuelans take to the polls this weekend to decide who will guide their country for the next 6 years, they are all too aware of these great differences.
Everyone has an opinion. Some are sure the elections will come and go peacefully. Others are convinced that destabilizing actions will be carried out by those that would prefer not to play by the rules of Venezuelan democracy. Across the board, huge portions of the opposition are convinced that Rosales has the support to win, ignoring almost all major polls, which show Chavez with an undeniable lead. At the same time, much of the opposition does believe that Chavez will be declared victor, but that he will win thanks to fraudulent acts that will tip the votes in his favor. Much of the opposition that filled the streets of Caracas one week ago in support of Manuel Rosales, is convinced that their only hope does not rest on election day—December 3rd—but on December 4th or 5th, when they will be called to hit the streets with the rally cry of “fraud” and protest against the newly elected “illegitimate Chavez regime.”
Members of the Venezuelan Armed Forces declared on the state television station, Vive, yesterday, that they had come across a poster calling for a “Great Avalanche Against Fraud” March on December 5th in Caracas, and convoked by Rosales. There is little doubt of the support of the Venezuelan state television station for President Chavez, but if this report turns out to be true, it is leading Venezuela down an ever increasingly dangerous road where many in the opposition are discrediting the likely results of the December 3rd Presidential elections and the Venezuelan electoral system at large, regardless of the outcome.
Last month, an opposition leader called for Venezuela’s opposition to do the “Ukraine” and carry out large street protests until public opinion turns in your favor. There are rumors of armed radical groups that are preparing to wreak havoc on point locations through the nation’s capital and the country. There are rumors of a possible attempt to use satellite transmissions to jam televised broadcasting and announce fraudulent election results. There are rolling black-outs just north of the Presidential Palace of Miraflores. There are rumors of a small attack on the National Electoral Council in Barinas State. There are rumors that the media and suspect pollsters will once again be up to their old tricks of releasing less-than-reliable exit poll results halfway through the day, convincing millions of a completely misleading result.Only tomorrow and the days following will we see the road laid before us. Only then will the Venezuelan people head to the polls and make their decision, only then will it be clear what direction this country will choose. Until then, this evening before Election Day, Caracas is quiet. Unusually quiet. With only the occasional and distant bottle-rocket or firework to break the silence of the night.