Venezuelans in Caracas Neighborhoods Chat about Election and Beyond

On street corners, in subway stations, and in front of small kiosks on Friday, Venezuelans from different neighborhoods expressed their desire for peaceful, respectful, and massive participation in this Sunday’s state and local elections.

Caracas, November 22, 2008 (– On street corners, in subway stations, and in front of small kiosks on Friday, Venezuelans from the lower middle-class neighborhood of La Pastora and in the barrios of Catia and 23 Enero expressed their desire for peaceful, respectful, and massive participation in this Sunday’s state and local elections. Passersby in the upper class neighborhood of Altamira talked of the need for unity among Venezuelans, and hinted at suspicions that fraud or incomplete democratic freedoms would taint this Sunday’s voting.

“From my perspective, I hope people vote like they must vote, like people in all normal countries, with patience, so that everything goes well,” commented a construction worker in La Pastora, with a tinge of indifference. “Like always, the results will always be the same. What can I say? Will there be any surprises? No, that would be a lie. There will never be any surprises.”

A nearby burger vendor added, “The only thing we can hope for is that the people come out like they must, without anything happening, any interferences.”

“My hope is that what the people really want is fulfilled, and not just what some of the parties want. And that the results are accepted… I do not support this government. All of us want to live in freedom and democracy,” said a student of administration in La Pastora, who also mentioned that her father lives in Miami.

Two middle aged women near the La Pastora Plaza chit chatted back and forth, “We are excitedly awaiting the arrival of the elections, because we hope that the things that are good get better, and the things that are bad also get better.”

Expanding on this idea, they said, “Like, the public services should get better, the food prices that are rising, and security. We want equal rights for all. What we are hoping is that the president’s ideals continue moving forward for the people and for sovereignty.”            

A young businesswoman said frankly, “We all should come out and vote so that things change with new governors. Nothing is working now, there is insecurity, problems with the electricity and holes in the streets. Everything is bad.”

But a relatively neutral call for participation was overall tone in this working class community. “What we hope for is participation… We must call out to everybody, from the officialist side and the opposition, to vote. We have to come out and show our approval or disapproval of this government in a civil manner, and recognize the results, that is the mutual agreement,” said a 20-something year old science student who was wearing a red cap of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

Beside him, a middle aged woman who is studying in the Mission Sucre commented, “Whomever wins, is the winner, and must be respected, because they were the best. This is not a country of war, this is a country of peace.”

“I consider that it is every citizen’s duty to vote,” concluded an elderly woodworker in La Pastora.

Near the Miraflores presidential building, a news and snack food vendor also advocated for calmness on Sunday. “I hope that everybody votes with conscience, that everybody has thought thoroughly about the country’s issues and votes with conscience. And that the results are accepted. And that afterward, everything goes on peacefully.”

A demonstrably avid news reader approached the kiosk. “This election is an achievement, the confirmation of a process. The path has not been easy, we have confronted thousands of problems. We understand that with all the difficulties this process has had, we have taken a huge step forward in terms of hope, progress, and future development,” said the white-bearded man, who was wearing a red cap bearing the well-known stenciled face of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.  

“We trust in the democratic will of the people… I hope there is tranquility and stability, and afterward, I think there needs to be a revolutionary revision, because we have committed errors. We must fight against bureaucracy and corruption,” the man continued.

In the economically under-privileged outskirts to the West, a middle aged man wearing a red beret was forthcoming with his hard-core Chavismo. “Here with the people, many difficulties have presented themselves, but we are always in agreement with our revolution and with our commander Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías. Fatherland, Socialism, or Death, we will be victorious!” exclaimed the one-legged 23 de Enero resident.

After a moment of reflection, the man continued, “If the opposition wins in some state or district, well, we agree, we respect that, we accept our defeat.”

Less flamboyantly, a florist near the subway station in 23 de Enero commented, “The most important thing is that everything turns out well for the people of Venezuela. Be it for the opposition or the contrary. Following the election, the streets, the garbage, the abandoned communities, things in the barrio need to get better.”

Farther to the West, a Catia barrio street vendor raved about the virtues of Leopoldo López, the young opposition mayor of the wealthy Chacao district on the other side of town who was disqualified from candidacy by Venezuela’s anti-corruption watchdog. “I will vote for whomever the opposition candidates are. Look at how bad the economy is, I am out here all day and only sell two or three things,” said the woman.

A tight-lipped bus driver in Catia said, “Voting is a must-do. I hope everything goes well. As long as the people are eating, as long as there is bread, everything is fine.”

Walking down a nearby street, a businessman commented on the purpose of voting. “We must vote to conserve what we have,” said the middle-aged man. “The missions, the Mothers of the Barrio, look, things are being done that were never done before for single mothers. Grants for low-income students, food, the Mission Sucre, these things we cannot lose.”

“Everyone should come out and vote, be it for the opposition or the government, but don’t let others give opinions for you,” said a homemaker who was walking alongside the man.

On the eastern side of town, where the tallest buildings are not rectangular, stained, low-income apartment complexes, but curvy, gleaming headquarters of Venezuela’s largest companies, the people of Altamira manifested distinct attitudes.

“We do not know what will happen during these elections because there are always surprises. In the past, the results of the elections were never very clear, so I hope the people with the power recognize the results of the voting in the correct way,” said a 20-something year old student of education.

Another young student of administration spoke of the need for unity in the country.
“The principal problem is the divide between the opposition and those who sympathize with the government. And I think once these difficulties are overcome we can begin to work all together for the betterment of the state and the municipality, and work together for unity,” she said.

Meanwhile, a middle-aged painter sitting on a bench was sure that “who ever wins will be the one who works for the community, for the people.”

A very hurried, nicely dressed businessman commented, without slowing his pace, “Everyone should vote. It is our only way out of all of this.”

Late in the afternoon, a self-employed businessman with a copy of the daily El Universal tucked under his armpit offered his analysis. “It is very good that we are, apparently, still able to vote. I hope people go to vote with freedom and order. I hope the future officials will give a little extra of themselves in their jobs, as the country demands of them. And, we cannot view our country in a merely internal context, but we must also see ourselves as part of a global terrain,” he said.   

On Sunday, Venezuelans will go to the polls for the 13th time in a decade to elect 22 state governors and 328 local mayors.

All photos credit: James Suggett