Which Side of the Road…

Who says that there’s no democracy in Venezuela? Well whoever says it, don’t believe it! I can see the democracy here nearly every day!

With less than 2 months left of a long electoral campaign which, unofficially, started in February, and won’t culminate until after the December 16th local elections, efforts are being stepped up by both camps to get their hopeful into the Miraflores Presidential Palace. Activists from both Chavez’s and Capriles’ campaigns are working harder than ever.

Close to where I live, there is one of the major crossroads in the city, and a large supermarket located on one corner, which I pass everyday on my way into work. Every day that I walk past there, I can’t help but be reminded of the lies printed in the BBC and CNN about the ‘dire’ state of Venezuelan democracy, about the ‘censorship’ in Venezuela, and the ‘iron hand’ of the Revolution. And this is why…

On one side of the crossroads you can see a red marquee that has been put up, with a red table, red chairs, numerous red flags flying in the Andean breeze, around 20-30 chavista activists who aredressed in red and distributing campaign materials, and the only non-red element of the location, a large, black, speaker, which blares out pro-revolutionary songs, for the entire community and probably the neighboring ones as well to hear, songs often by Chavez himself, and campaign slogans for the ‘candidate of the motherland’, ‘the heart of the country’, Hugo Chavez.

Across the crossroads from them is a smaller white marquee, with a white and blue table, no flags, around 3-5 opposition activists dressed in white t-shirts, with the opposition ‘there is a path’ slogan printed on them, and, like their rivals a mere 30m away, a large, black, speaker, which blares out anti-revolutionary songs, and the ‘there is a path’ theme tune for the candidate of the oligarchy, of the multinational corporations, of capitalism, and of the bourgeoisie, Henry Capriles Radonski.

Both sets of activists are there to fight for their candidate who gives them, in their respective political circles, hope. There are there to advance their respective electoral campaigns, in their own manner, and distribute their particular campaign materials to the eternal traffic jams that congest the crossroads. There is no insulting, no name calling, no shouting, no pushing, and definitely no censorship.

Now it should be noted that the Capriles team do seem to like their time off the campaign trail, as they only seem to want to support Capriles roughly twice a week . Maybe they spend the other days sipping a vintage rosé in the stylish restaurants in town, or buying some designer Guchi clothes. On the other hand, the Chavistas almost worry me with their dedication, as every day, without fail, rain or shine, they are there often from 9am to 6pm, normally full of energy, but every once in a while taking a well-deserved siesta under the marquee.

Whats more, on my 20 minute walk into work, I pass at least 7 similar red marques, with Chavez’s beaming face and a collection of local activists manning the stall. Roughly twice a week I witness the presence of the opposition activists, sometimes less.

This sort of sight can currently be seen all over Venezuela. There are political ‘points’, marquees, stalls, standing duty on nearly every other street all over the country. There are there to take forward their campaign, to attract voters, to answer questions, satisfy doubts, and as a show of force, to remind people who is the candidate of the masses and who isn’t. 

Now remind me, who is it that says that there is no democracy in Venezuela? Who is it that says that there is no freedom of speech? That there is political censorship? That the campaign is biased, bought? That the election isn’t fair? That Chavez is a yet another South American dictator? 

Well I can’t tell you the names of the journalists who print these lies, as those at the CNN, the  BBC, Fox news, the Telegraph, the Washington Post, and even at the Yahoo and Google news services seem to always forget to put their names at the end of the articles! So forgetful they are, it’s almost as if they weren’t proud of what they print, or as if they don’t want people to applaud them, or maybe respond to them! Someone should remind them about that.

However all of this ‘democracy’ does leave one with a certain conundrum. What side of the road should I walk on to get to work every day?!?! 

On the side with the white marquee, with a few tired and angry looking activists who talk in hateful and jealous tones, in white hats which tell me the message which always make me think of Jesus Christ: “there IS a path”? Well, it doesn’t tell me much about what that path is, but I’ve come to notice that that is Capriles´ style… tell us what he wants to do, but not quite how he’s going to go about doing it. 

Or do I walk on the side with the red marquee? Now the downside of this side of the road is that this side always has more people walking on it, I don’t know if it’s due to the shade or what, but it makes walking down it in a straight line somewhat difficult! Also, I would have to negotiate people in wheel chairs, disabled people, overweight people, and indigenous people, old ladies with worn out faces from a lifetime of trial and struggle, people who live on the streets, who maybe smell bad, poor people, yet people who are singing and people who are dancing! Don’t they know I’m late for work? Well maybe they could ask me: don’t I know that there’s a party going on? An election party! 

Well that side, with an atmosphere which oozes joy and love, is hard to compare to the opposite side of the street, but hey, these are the questions which a genuine, healthy, participative, democracy leaves us asking ourselves right? Which side of the street should I walk on…

Paul Dobson
August 2012