lunes, 30 de julio de 2007

The Saucepan Therapy

So RCTV managed to get a space in Cable, not for long since the government is already under excuses that I don’t fully understand; planning to close it again, probable next Wednesday. The idea of a Venezuelan TV Channel; that even counting it can only be seen by a very low percentage of the population, is not forced to broadcast the Chavez speeches and government propaganda unlike the rest of the Venezuelans TV Channels and radio stations (the famous “cadenas”), just hurts Mr. Chavez pride way too much. Because of that, a “Cacerolazo” was planned today at 8:00 Pm. I have described many times before on this blog what a “Cacerolazo” is, but I will do it again for the new readers: it’s a way of protest that consist on hitting kitchen tools for symbolize the lack of food (because we are hitting empty saucepan that should be filled with food, that’s the whole metaphor) but it can rather symbolize the lack of other things too like free speech in this case.
We didn’t knew about the “Cacerolazo” and while we all were having dinner and watching TV, our neighbors started to annoy us with the sound of spoons hitting saucepans. My mom and I quickly ran into the kitchen and took whatever we need in order to protest, while my sister was taking her baby to the back of the house. After we protested on the balcony for a while, we decided to go out of the house and do the same on the sidewalk.

My street is an extremely quite and lonely street; so usually for big “cacerolazos” in my neighborhood I have to walk some blocks till the main avenue to find some people to protest with. This time, we didn’t feel like walking so we just stood there; in my front door, with the company of some random car passing by and the neighbors that annoyed us at first: an old couple who lives in front of us. Just four people and the rest of the houses quiet, like nothing; probably just watching TV and wondering when those crazy fanatic protester neighbors were about to shut up.
People might wonder many things about this little crazy action, the questions may be centered on the effects that such a tiny protest can have. What’s the purpose of four people hitting kitchen tools at 8 Pm in a street of some distant neighborhood in Caracas? What do we plan to get with it? Why are we still hitting the same saucepan using the same wood spoon as we did back on 2002? (And look at the results!).
Those lonely protests might sound sad and pathetic for many and I don’t have any argument to defend myself from such accusations because the truth is that, they are right: those protests have no effect at all what’s so ever. And then, why we still do it?
Probably because we need to, because we can’t fight against the horrible things that are happening even if we’d like to do that but we have to somehow proof to ourselves that we are still resisting, and not just crossing our arms in front of the TV. The “Cacerolazo” my mom, the old couple and me made today felt more like a crying or like a scream not expecting to be heard, than a protest.
And still, the government will close RCTV (or the little that remains of the network) again next Wednesday, probably. Several proposed constitutional reforms are touching our feet while we are getting used to the lack of white sugar and the adventures to get some meat; while our friends are leaving or planning to and the streets looks more insecure than ever, but you might end up in jail for saying something about it.
Then, the minute we start a “Cacerolazo”, even a lonely one; all the misfortunate events passed by like a flashback or a menace hunting you. You answer back hitting the sauce pan even harder and you feel a little bit safe, not of the madness coming but from the possible indifference and resignation kills all the integrity you have still inside. Then, I ironically think that none “Cacerolazo” will ever be able to end the pain, but it works as some unusual therapy: breaking all over again a wood spoon because of so many hits is your way of saying “I’m still here after all”.
This is probably hard to understand for a lot people here and abroad and I’m not expecting anyone to get it. Don’t look for any sense or logic on this issue, but rather, notice that for get throughout this, is important to have at least the illusion of resistance, even if it’s just an illusion.

sábado, 21 de julio de 2007

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Back in the early or even, mid days of the revolution (that means till December of 2006; because after those elections everything became more extreme, worse than before), the demonstrations were planned with enough anticipation so the people could even bookmark that day in their agendas.The event was public announced on mass media and you could see a map of the route that the demonstration was suppose to take, carefully detailed on the late night news report of any open broadcasted TV network.
There were, of course, some restrictions as an early sign of authoritarian moves such as the security zones decree (that I have talked about on previous stories) which consists on declare certain areas as “security zones” that include streets around military installations and government buildings. Caracas, as the capital of Venezuela it has a lot of government offices and also (this bothers me a little but that’s material for another story) at least a couple of important military installations so as a result; any important building, any place where people needed to be heard was declared a security zone, and therefore, any protest on those areas is illegal and strictly prohibited (well, as we have notice, strictly prohibited for the people against the government only).

But now, the security zones decree sounds like a meanless thing if you compare it the rest of the restrictions we have to deal with. Those restrictions have grown in a matter of months. I don’t think many people are consciously aware of this terrible change.
Today, despiting the public announces of the previous years about demonstrations, you can only have the luck to be informed of an upcoming demonstration if you know someone who has also information about it and that person knows another who knows and so it goes, via text messages; the night before or even a few hours before the event. No mass media news revealing the plans, no one informing you of the route that you are not quite aware of until maybe the very same day and the very same moment that the demonstration is starting.
Those text messages flying from one cell phone to another are not only the substitute of mass media since RCTV (the oldest Venezuelan TV network) was closed by the government and Globovision (only opposition channel that remains) it’s constantly under the “revolutionary” menace eyes. Publishing our upcoming plans even if we had the media to do it's now very inconvenient.
Some demonstrations are legal, and some others (on governments opinion, of course) are not or at least, “not totally legal” (only at some streets for example). And even the legal ones, the totally legal ones are received at the end by an extremely big contingent of policemen and/ or some military (National Guard, Military Police…).
Before feeling a non justify fear, I always quickly check all that “army” that is waiting for us: their shields, the weapons that I can see sometime (shouldn’t this be illegal?), the tanks, or the trucks for spreading water called “whales” and you can’t forget the cages (“jaulas”, trucks for taking the detained people).
I must make a parenthesis here and say that I never saw those cages or maybe never notice them before, until the several protest about the RCTV closure at the end of May; another change on the demonstration dynamics of my country.
Anyway, the arsenal I mentioned varies on the case and sometimes all that is combined with a group of Chavez supporters wearing red t-shirts and yelling for say the least; physically separated from us by a police line. Or also, another group of Chavez supporters giving circles around the demonstration in their motorcycles.
Yet, most of that doesn’t scare me at all and I don’t think it scares anyone by now. They are actually, only a few moments (three for being exact) that can happen (or not) at the end of a demonstration and if they do happen, the tense peace is broken. Of those three, one doesn’t even requires to break the peace because its part of the army. Anyway, I will detail one by one the moments or things I’m afraid of when I get to where a demonstration ends:


When this happens, it always takes me out of nowhere, by surprise. I’m sitting with a few friends, talking, even a little bit bored or feeling dizzy because of the unbearable noon heat and boom: those guys a few seconds ago just standing there like statues move and puts on their masks.

They look like horrible robots, my heart beats fast because I know what’s coming. I hate when they, just after put on their masks, start marching with their big shields against the people protesting. The next might sound funny, but at least the reader can understand now the odd title that I choose for this story: I always comment with my mom that for me, when they do that, they look like a bunch of black Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles moving against you.


With the adrenaline of the moment and some experience, of course; you might know what that explosion mean: a tear gas bomb shouted (tear gas bombs don’t produce a sound by themselves, only if they are shouted) or pellets or gunshots… The scariest thing about it is not the explosion itself, but the fact that you don’t know where that explosion comes from. Is it from…the police line? But suddenly those guys are just everywhere! Or does it come from the Chavez supporters group? Or from someone who passed by in a motorcycle? What if they come from a building? I think I could feel less fear on those moments If I knew the answer to the “Who is shooting and from where?” question because then I could know where to hide, where to run and from who I should run of first. But you always play with luck in those cases instead.


I warned that in those three moments one wasn’t exactly a moment but part of the army. Before the RCTV closure I was not used to see those cages and maybe I’m not get used to them, but I do hate to see those because in case you are detained and taken to those cages; the uncertainly level compared with the previous couple of moments about possible risk or consequences its just over the top.
If the policemen suddenly put on their masks you know that some tear gas is coming. You have to run a little, maybe, if you can’t stand the gas or just smell a handkerchief filled with vinegar and (or) spread some toothpaste under your eyes and nose, and you are done. That’s easy.
In the case of an explosion you are quite aware of even the worse scenario, you know the possible injuries of a bomb, a pellet cartridge can cause; even death. Yes, that is desperately tragic but what I’m trying to say here is that in those cases, at least, you know.
But, what if a policeman decides to detain you in the middle of a demonstration and take you to one of those cages? What do you could possible know about your destiny then? People might argue that probably after they detained you they are going to take you somewhere to start a process. The thing is: Where? For how long?, And under what conditions? Are they going to let you speak to an attorney and /or your family? Under what charges they are going to justify your detention?
In a constitutional and democratic republic I should certainly have the answer to all those questions since they respond to basic civil rights. They should be simply obvious.
A few days ago a couple of brothers, also students, were giving some pamphlets with Bolivar phrases to the people outside a football stadium (yes, the famous Copa America). They were detained, for being released afterwards and forced to present to the court every single week under very weird charges. The charges usually are “sabotage”, “betrayal to the country”, “public disorder”…
The truth is (and one must tell things as they are without having the fear of being accused of extremism or over reacting) that there are no rights and no law in Venezuela. The only law that is carefully obey here comes from the mood Chavez wakes up one morning.
Since I don’t know how Chavez and his combo is going to wake up tomorrow; the future its pathetically uncertain for me and that’s what its truly killing some of us inside. Is not all the madness that has happen already but the things that could eventually happen. And there is only one thing for sure about this issue: whatever might happen in the future doesn’t look good at all; even more, it looks worse than the current situation.
A foreigner asked me once just like that: “How do you feel about Hugo Chavez?” and I answered: “How would you feel if someone comes and takes you away everything you once loved or hoped for?” – “Bad, I guess” – He said – “Well, that’s how”.

What matters is not that he is messing up the country because it was starting to mess up like ten years before Chavez. Is that he is messing up the possibilities as well: means our hopes of some day being able improve the current state of things.
No, you have to agree with him and even more, work on his own way even if you know the disadvantage and the damage that way can cause (therefore, this phenomenon can be even more dramatic among educated people). Chavez is the perfect example of the famous slang: “Ni lava ni presta la batea”. This means, “neither he wash, neither be borrows the tray to others” (or let others use it). Neither has he ruled well, neither he let others try.
Another foreigner asked me to make a post about my daily life here and the best I can do for describing it is to talk as I’m doing now, about uncertainly.
The black Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I mentioned are not only waiting for you at the end of a demonstration, but you also feel that they seem to be waiting for you at the end of your life. There are black Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles walking against you on every single moment: when you go out and see an empty street and fear being mugged; when you study and hear about decrees against university autonomy coming; when someone from your family loses its job because it has fallen under the siege of the government.
Maybe the fear increases when you are going to a protest, but you go to a protest because you feel that fear all the time and you want to see the end of it someday. You know you are risking a lot. Most of the times you go to a protest and you come back home like nothing. The demonstration was almost like a fun carnival. But some other times is not fun at all and there is the possibility of not coming back home.
You don’t know what day the carnival will end and even so, it always seems to take you by surprise. You notice a terrible fear by just making the “what if” imagination exercise. A few minutes later you take a deep breath and just pack your things and go either to a protest, to your classes, a party or your job. Once you are there, you don’t think about it much, there is no turning back.
This general mood of the people, or at least most of the people I’m in touch with (I’m not using statistics for writing this entry) is very convenient for the government and probably that’s why the government is constantly making menaces that maybe are not going to be real until a few months or even years later.
Through these years, between reality and future possibilities I have certainly experienced a lot for choosing from the big amount of news about the upcoming news of the government; just some issues that might truly concern me or even nothing at all. Many things that concern the foreigners and that are the starting points of quite long discussion don’t make me even move off my seat (like the news about Chavez possible buying Russian submarines). And is not because I’m ignorant, naïve, or don’t worry about my country. It is called “getting used to” or maybe, “trying to survive in a sanity mood”. In a good way, you might also say I’m stronger, I can live around things that probably people outside Venezuela (on countries of better conditions, of course) can’t.
People usually say that what doesn’t kills you make you stronger. It’s probably a nice consolation prize for those who spend their lives in the unbearable wonder of “What if this does kills me?” I don’t want strength really. Possibly being stronger doesn’t make me proud at all. I would happily change anytime all my “strength” built as a product of many encounters with different black Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in my life for some peace in return.

domingo, 8 de julio de 2007

(Final thoughts) The beauty of a vote no longer secret

Now, let’s make some margin notes and move from the theory to the praxis. Means the last argument (read the two final paragraph of the previous entry) I put in order to criticize the recall figure cannot be used for easily make accusations against the opposition for “not letting Chavez work”.In this very specific case this argument does not just fit with Venezuela because the weakness of our democracy (or more likely our political system that doesn’t haves a lot of democracy anymore) goes beyond the existence of the recall figure itself and it combines with other constitutional specifications.
First, our constitutional ruler periods for president at least are, in my opinion, way too long. Those periods are not of four or five years, but even for six years and the immediate reelection it’s allowed so a president in Venezuela since the Constitution of 1999 can easily rule for twelve years even. And is not a secret that Chavez plans and has spoke about reform the Constitution in a way that it can allow the indefinite reelection.
In that way, even without a possible upcoming reform, our Constitution gives the perfect ground for a ruler can be way too used to power for being a truly democrat. So if our periods are of six years, in three years you can pretty much have a balance of what a leader has done right or wrong and you can even see some results so making a recall in those circumstances wouldn’t be as crazy as making it for a four or five years period; yet it is still an unnecessary spend of money and an incentive to make a political system less stable.
Second, if the reader remembers right, the recall against Chavez was finally made on August, 2004. And as far as I know, Venezuela has not had another president but Chavez since 1998. Make the count, from 1998 till 2004 its six years, not three and its now way more than enough time to know if a president has done his job right or not.
But yet the CNE (electoral institution) and the government, made all belief, even to the international observers such as the Carter Centre and the OEA (I think its OAS in English) that the half of Chavez period was actually some months before mid 2004 (when we were actually allowed to pick the signatures and the CNE to validate because the rules of the CNE, made at the moment stand that not only the recall had to be done at the middle of the period, but also the signatures had to be requested then and not before).
Means Chavez period didn’t really started in 1998… weird… perhaps my memory at my very young age is starting to fail…
Of course, there’s always a very legal excuses to make it all look right. Chavez was elected in 1998, he request a Constitutional Assembly to write a new constitution according to his wishes; which was approved in 1999. Then he called for elections again because some how the new constitution needed also a new president. Or it was just the same man with a different tie? Perhaps my memory is failing again.
So some how his presidency really really started… I lost count of when it started. Some even tried to argue, during the struggle for getting the recall against Chavez, that the period of Chavez had really started on 2002, after that supposedly “coup” that briefly put him out off power.
Anyway, legally, we could only request the recall at the middle of his presidency; means around 2003 and the CNE took all the time that consider necessary (why such a hurry?) to ask for the recall in August of 2004. Six years (not three), six years after Chavez first came to power.
Of course ever since then Chavez has won many elections and he has being applaud for many, is the victory that not other political leader can talk about it today. It’s a victory only based on gently twist to the democracy disturbing it in such a way that it can be anything now, except a democracy.
Elections do not necessarily means democracy – That’s what I constantly repeat to lot of people who try to establish Chavez as a truly democrat. Wondering around the blogosphere once I came across an article from an American who quoted the recalls “as democratic process of whom we the gringos should be jealous of”, I don’t remember his exact words but it was something like that and I laughed thinking “If he only knew”.
I want to make clear here that I do think that the democracies we better know of, means the traditionally bourgeoisie democracies are not perfect either although they are definitely a dozen times better than the political system I’m living under right now.
I’m convinced of the fact that in this world some deputy even choose at open elections where the principle of an universal, secret and direct vote is respected; cannot just locked inside a Parliament to discuss the issues of the people that without knowing was happening just move on with their lives and votes again after five years.
I’m convinced that we most look on alternative mechanism in order to increase and canalize the participation of the people in their political system and therefore, to improve such system, to make them truly more democrat.
But that participation must be real and we cannot be fool on the many costumes a dictatorship intention can wear under the mask of “participation” and “power to the people”. If you guys were looking like me, on ways on improving the participation, well its good that you know that perhaps the recall is not exactly the right way and it does exactly the opposite.
Elections do not necessarily mean democracy- I repeat. Not if you can’t vote trusting no one would know your vote and specially if after doing so, you are certainly sure that you have lost your job. Do not confuse a simply populist tool with a democratic way of life.
I know that anyone who stands that any principle can be moved is non political by definition because is not letting any negotiation spaces. But I haven’t find yet any reasons to give up to the principle of the secret vote and I’m still convinced and I think I have given enough good arguments to stand it that the principle of the secret vote should be respected. And I have given enough proof to scream that the secret vote has been violated over and over again in Venezuela.

(Part IV) The beauty of a vote no longer secret

Elections do not necessarily mean democracy. This was a very rough lesson for us the Venezuelans, and specially the Venezuelans against the current administration to learn. My hope now is that this lesson can be also learned abroad. Recalls are not impressive constitutional advances, neither they are the re birth of the democracy in the very ancient Greek style we all secretly dream about one or two times in our lives.
They are not an unusual opportunity for the people to participate on major political decisions like they couldn’t do before. They are not the chance of putting out of power someone who hasn’t done things right. Logically speaking they should be all that. I’m going to explain now why I think, from my experience why this is not just a simple distant from theory to reality but even more; it is also a false theory of a perfect democracy in order to hide an also perfect dictatorship.

First, for going to a recall at least in my country, you must sign first requesting such a recall. If you are signing for requesting that recall you are simply already voting not only for the recall to be done, but also for one of the options that this recall pursue.
In other words, If you sign to request a recall that will ask to all Venezuelans if they want Chavez out off the Miraflores office and even more an answer supporting to put Chavez out of power will really by law put Chavez out off power; you are not signing because you are worried about a highly polarized country and you think its necessary for the reconciliation to request a recall and make elections about it, even if the “positive” results are not convenient for you since you support Chavez. Do not be fooled, if you sign to request a recall you are doing it because you from start, want to put Chavez out of power.
Now the reader might ask, what’s my problem about this simple obvious fact? Why am I wasting lines making people notice about it? It is for outstand that the recall, in theory and in praxis, if it requires to pick up signatures; then from the very beginning violates the democratic principle that stands the vote should always be secret.
It doesn’t take a genius to know that. Because of that, something as horrible as the political discrimination started from the “Tascón list” happened. To sign in those conditions is to register in a black list.
Let’s say that in theory the CNE (electoral institution) should keep those lists in secret and those lists can’t be spread outside under any circumstances. Still, the CNE has to validate each and every one of these signatures, to make sure that those signatures are from Venezuelans or nationalized voters legally registered. Then, still, the CNE knows who signed and who didn’t.
The principle of the secret vote, as far as I know doesn’t stands “The vote should always be secret except for the institution in charge of the elections” or “A secret vote means your vote cannot be spread”, or “A secret vote means your vote can be known but yet not used for discriminate you or violate your civil rights on anyway”.
No! The vote should be secret, period. And should be secret for each and every one of the people around you, the institution, the governors, the party’s... The principle of the secret vote stands that you are the only one who can know about your vote. You and no one else and you can trust on this issue in order to vote freely, only under the commands of your own conscience.
In that way is truly the principle of the secret vote (and not the “capta-huellas” machines) the one that should guarantee the principle of “one voter, one vote” since if a vote remains secret it also remains although not entirely free of influences, yet free of menaces.
I still punch myself in the conscience thinking about how I didn’t notice this before, and yet we didn’t made demonstrations against the approval of such a figure in the constitution and what was even more irresponsible, we try to make use of that figure, and we signed without counting that it so obviously broke the principle of the secret votes; even hiding the signatures inside the CNE (electoral institution) doors.

My second argument for calling a recall a false theory of a perfect democracy that on the other hand is favorable to non democratic practice (if it not a non democratic practice itself) goes beyond than that. I read something like this once on some Moscovici works about the relations between dictators such as Stalin and Hitler and the masses who supported them; and now I’m going to complete those arguments I once read (probably from some other authors but right now he’s the only one who come backs to my mind) with things I have seen and experienced here in Venezuela.
It goes like this: in normal elections the voter has the freedom of choose between loads of choices (even if its centered at the end on two candidates as it commonly happens) and this choices (even if they are only two) are real choices; are one candidate or another, one specific project or another.
The recall only gives the voter the freedom to confirm or reject a previously made proposal. It doesn’t give the voter the option of make a stance about an alternative choice or to design projects from those choices. Seeing it that way it is a much more limited way of vote, and therefore less or not at all democratic.
Instead of putting the power from the hands of the governors till the hands of the people, instead of being a tool that allows the voter to really change its destiny; the recalls at the end are only mechanism for legitimate or not, a certain person, a certain issue. Then don’t translate into anything else. They allow the voter to take off the power from a certain governor, but never allow the voter to choose an alternative power.
In best cases the person is removed from the office or the action is not done at least at the moment; but the same structure of power remains despite the whole voting process and it remains with the same amount of power and the same amount of legitimacy since even if it lost, it allowed to make the recall itself and therefore is more democratic (the famous argument behind the affirmation that that stands the good Chavez dared to face the count of the voters against his administration in a recall process).
In worse cases, the current power can even increase the amount of power and legitimacy it once had (the argument behind that affirmation that counts the victory Chavez has earn from many elections process).

My third argument for saying that a recall is a fake democracy in theory as it is in praxis is more simple and practical. Most democracies limits by principle even, the rule period of each and every one of the mayors, governors and presidents to a certain amount of years (four, five… depends on the case).
This law obeys two reasons: one, a principle which stands that the power is a vice just as drugs or cigarettes and therefore can’t be hold for the same person (even if it is Mother Therese) for too long without being corrupted; and two that in case certain governor has made a bad job the people have the chance to choose a different governor once that period is completed and this period its short enough to not let people stand the bad consequences of a bad government for too long.
Probably the intentions of making the figure of a recall obeys to the very same reason, and even farther because it judges that the periods (already short ones) normally given to a certain governor are too long to stand if the governor is really that bad.
But from where I see it, half of the constitutional period is also way too short to let any governor actually do something and way too short for us to see the results of their administration. So instead letting the administration work, why not ask for a recall, spend loads of money on another elections process and change the rulers any time we want to because we just simply don’t like the guy. Oh… the consequences for the stability of any political system are not exactly hard to be seen, are they?

sábado, 7 de julio de 2007

(Part III) The beauty of a vote no longer secret

A few hours later I came back home with my dad and my sister and we waited until my mom called us for pick her up at the center, it was passed midnight and she was making the final count of the votes for sending it to the CNE (electoral institution). Since everyone can legally watch this final count I entered for the second time to my voting center, also for making my mom some company while she and the other members were trying to manage among all that complicated paperwork they had to do.
After they counted the votes some technical experts from the CNE reached to my center to send the results and the military took the boxes filled with “bills” as I called the little pieces of paper printed with the results. By the time that was happening the results of the “referendo revocatorio” were already announced by the CNE; since they had already a big percentage of voting centers results in order to make that announcement.
I didn’t hear it on live, my sister told me that in a very low voice. I saw the smiles of some military and some technical experts from the CNE. “Chávez has won” – She said – “But don’t tell mom yet”.
My mom couldn’t eat during the whole day (means between 4 am and passed midnight), she couldn’t actually stop working during the whole day and logically, I have never seen her so tired before as I saw her that day. She was simply destroyed. The four of us (my mom, my dad, my sister and I jumped in the car and didn’t say a word on the way back home.
She saw the results on TV in the minute we put a step inside our house and fall sleep soon after that, with some tears in her eyes without knowing if they were because of all the tiredness she had or the fact that all her work was in vain, since it only served to confirm Chavez on his power seat.
The next day, I went out with the members of the youth group from my political party, we wanted to talk about what happened but we didn’t know what to say or expect. After all that work we were facing to the same world we were fighting against or even worse, since Chavez was more stronger now after winning another election.
We stopped at the house of the same guy who weeks before, installed alone the campaign spot to promote the “Sí” and he didn’t wanted to came out, he was way too down. And only a few months later I resign to the political party. Was truly a chain of disasters, for both the country and my personal life.
While my mom was sleeping, the opposition was already giving press conferences denouncing a fraud. A part of me doubts a lot, a part of me still belief it was a fraud.
Before the recall we were managing numbers between 40% with intentions of voting for the “no” and 60% with intentions of voting for the “si”. I ask the readers that don’t request me for statistics proof of this affirmations because as the matter of fact, I don’t have it in my hands and I don’t remember if I read them by a legitimate source or if I only heard them randomly. I know this is very irresponsible to tell, but the fact is that it is my responsibility to be honest about the stories I tell on this blog.
The thing is that the CNE (electoral institutions) gave results that were exactly backwards of what I heard before the recall: 60% voted for the “no” and “40%” for the “sí” and it smelled weird to me. Many proof were presented later that suggested the manipulation of numbers from the CNE in order to give more votes to the “no” option. I remember seeing or hearing about some military playing football with the voting boxes, and those boxes were the only proof we might had once.
The process was so complicated that I think it was equally complicated to demonstrate a fraud; if not impossible. I didn’t knew if I was being fooled or not, and if so, by who, the government or the opposition. The amount of different versions of the event from the government and the opposition and inside the opposition itself made me all confused. And still, today, they confuse me.
I reached to the conclusion that I can’t really tell if what happen on August 15 was an impressive victory of Chavez or not.
But…if you have to sign two times and “repair” another, under menaces of possible consequences if you sign against the president… if while you are making your registration at the electoral centre for being able to vote for the first time, a lot of immigrants suddenly nationalized on big events (of whom I have no speak yet) promoted by Chavez just before the recall are doing the same… if such a long time has to pass between the picking up signatures events and the recall and it’s the same time that the missions (government programs) were more strongly displayed and there results more fierily promoted… if the question approved for making the recall is semantically done in a way that its almost a sin to vote for the “sí”… if a lot of new machines are bought to make complicated what its probably the most simple electoral process ever since it its only a decision between two choices… if you have to wait eleven hours on a line to make your vote… if… if… if…
I cannot reach to the conclusion that even many opposition leaders had reached: that we were completely fooled by the opposition itself about the recall and Chavez legitimate won such a process. I cannot tell what it was, but something weird and non democratic happened that day.
When recently, three years later from the “referendo revocatorio” against the president, new picking up signatures even were announced this time for making the recall against many governors and mayors and almost no one showed up to sign, its easy to understand why. A friend of mine abroad asked me about this and all I could tell her was: “And what for? Being part of another Tascón List? I just don’t see the point of making a recall request anymore…”
About the pic: Just some random woman in Caracas wearing a red dress... do I need to explain this? (source... me!)

(Part II) The beauty of a vote no longer secret

After the repairs, the date for the “refererendo revocatorio” was finally settled: August 15, 2004. I do remember the exact date this time.And the question that was finally approved by the CNE (electoral institution) as the one to be made at the revocation recall was the following:
"¿Está usted de acuerdo con dejar sin efecto el mandato popular, otorgado mediante elecciones democráticas legítimas al ciudadano Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, como presidente de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela para el actual periodo presidencial?” Mean: “Do you agree about letting without effect the popular command, given by democratic and legitimate elections to the citizen Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, as president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for the current presidential period?”
My mom laughed when she read the “official question” because for her sounded a little bit redundant, like “Do you really, really want, are you definitely sure you want to take off the command, just for the knowledge of the good, amazing, legitimate, democratic, incredible, popular president Chávez?”
Was almost a joke, but a joke we had to answer by saying “Sí” (yes). Soon the electoral campaign for that event started. The meetings with my youth group at the political party I was part of back then were incredible frequent. They become one of my closest groups of friends during those months. We talked about where to put the publicity and give the pamphlets supporting the “Sí” while the government was making an amazing political campaign for the “No”.
The streets of Caracas were decorated with big red and white posters of the “No” and the yellow, blue and red (the colors of our flag) posters of the “Sí”, some of them displayed at the middle of the night by my group of friends from the political party and me of course. Mass demonstrations about either the “Sí” or the “No” and campaign spots that consisted on some kind of marquee decorated with flags and posters, and a table with pamphlets and one or two members of the party given then to the people and talking to the people about why they should vote either for the “Sí” or the “No”.
One of my friends, one day, took his car and put one of those spots alone because the rest of us didn’t wake up early enough. Some days our spots where displayed just in front the red ones of the supporters of the “No” and some chants were screamed from one side to another; but nothing way too serious at least on my area (I only worked on the areas near by my home).
I spent some weird vacations (our classes usually end at the middle of July) by being 24 hours a day involved in the political campaign. We felt we were really working for putting an end to this horrible regime.
And now that I look back, now that the political fights I’m involved pursue very different goals, I know it was crazy to just request the end of the government and then “let’s see what we are going to do”. Actually not even we, that were working at a political party and not just any party but Primero Justicia which was one of the most important party’s during the days before the “referendo revocatorio”, knew exactly what was going to happen or what to expect after the recall if we won it.
We had an idea of a temporally government lead by the vice president until the end of the period in 2006 and new elections but that scene that came across our mind as something certain wasn’t exactly a good scene either. The promise was that Chavez was going to leave the power, yet not the Chavismo but we didn’t get it or fully think about the implications of that promise. And even so, we didn’t doubt for a second, while we installed daily the campaign marquee and displayed posters at night; that we were the winners.
Before I knew it, it was August 15, 2004, the last day of Chavez as we thought it was. And it was the first time in my life that given the fact I got my ID back and I could finally register in the electoral institution, I was able to vote. I almost didn’t sleep the previous night, couldn’t hold the excitement.
My mom was randomly selected by the CNE (electoral institution) to work inside the voting centre. A new voting system had its debut that day. The technology was shaking hands with the democracy (we should put some words between quotation marks, I think).
First, loads of machines called “capta- huellas” that were displayed to read the finger prints of the voters and guarantee the principle of “one voter, one vote” (well, we still wonder how they could do that and at the same time to guarantee another principle: the vote should be universal, direct and secret, as the constitution says so).
Second, more loads of machines were bought and displayed to make the vote it self. By pressing one button you could decide if you wanted the president to stay or leave.
During the electoral campaign we focused on giving instructions to the upcoming voters about how to use those machines in order to vote correctly. My mom, since she had to take a course for working at the electoral centre, explained us over and over again how the process was going to be. Still, after so many explanations, those machines and steps made it all a little bit confused.
We get to the electoral centre before sunrise to drop my mom and start making the line for voting. The tension was extreme since we had heard many rumors of possible attacks and intimidation from government supporters across my city. Yet, my electoral centre in particular was in a very distant location, away from the main avenues so I doubted anything could happen to us.
We heard about Lina Ron (that community pro- government blonde leader I have talked about on previous entrys) making tours with her followers around some electoral centers, although political campaign was strictly prohibited but in Venezuela the prohibition works only half way more often than not.
The lines soon became bigger and bigger. You could notice the same excitement I felt on many people waiting on the lines. Some reading the paper or random books (a friend of mine remembers the recall as the day she read the 4th book of Harry Potter from head to toe since she had to wait a lot for vote), some others playing dominoes and the most, talking about the historical events displaying. “This is definitely our last day with Chavez as a president” – I heard from the people over and over again. It was easy to read an almost utopist hope in their eyes.
I waited around eleven hours in order to vote for the first time in my life. Wondered, if my parents had to sign and repair their signs over and over again and then wait for eleven hours to vote when they did that for the first time. For being a process where you didn’t had to choose from a list of candidates but yet only vote “yes” or “no”, it was ridicules slow. And when I finally entered the voting centre I knew why I had to wait so many hours to vote.
First, I was told to go to a room to put my finger print on the “capta- huellas” machine. The machines failed over and over again (and crashed a few times during that day) before they finally capture your fingerprint. Then, I had to sign in the electoral notebooks.
If because of a twist of bad luck, the electoral center member was a pro-government one; this person could take several minutes before finding the line where you were supposed to sign. Yet, although I’m way too young to have any memory of electoral process before Chavez, my criticism is not centered there, there was nothing wrong about signing on those notebooks, it was just for knowing how many voters attended and how many were missing. And that shouldn't be related with your vote itself.
Then, I was finally taken to the voting machines to make my vote. The question was displayed in a scream and under, two squares with the possible answers of whom I had to choose. Someone correct me if I’m wrong but I think the “No” square was at the left side of the scream and the “Sí” (yes) square was located at the right side.
I’m not sure. When the electoral centre member asked me if I was ready while I looked behind some boxes (in order to guarantee, hope, the secret of the vote) a screen only I could see, I was so nervous that I don’t remember the exact location of the squares; only that my finger moved to one square of another praying that I could push the right square. It was a little bit complicated to make a mistake on this issue, was kind of hard to take all the system back to fix your vote so more or less, you had only one chance and the future of my country, as I felt it that day, was pretty much about me pushing the right square on that white screen.
After I pushed the “sí” square, a small piece of paper was printed; that looked pretty much like a bill. I was told to put that “bill” with the result of my vote inside a box. My mom looked at me and smiled, while she was busy given instructions to others inside the voting center.

(Part I) The beauty of a vote no longer secret

A few days ago some people were busy picking up signatures in order to ask for a recall on the rule of several mayors and governors from both the government and the opposition side. And the places displayed for that activity looked, according to some people I heard, incredible empty.No one, not even me, pay any attention in order to participate on what it once was called an outstanding democracy mechanism which improves the possibilities of real participation of the people in their political system. A real brand new privilege of the 1999 Constitution, which made many people here and abroad (and probably the consensus around this issue its still pretty big) to call this constitution as one of the more advanced Constitutions of the world.
“Progressive” – Some people said back then and even now, with their eyes amazed and shinning – “Progressive” – What a beautiful name to qualify supposedly beautiful things. But yet, I still can’t understand who came with the idea that whatever is beautiful, is therefore good and even more, democratic. They probably never read Walter Benjamin, when he made the criticism about mass media and reached the conclusion that even the war can look beautiful on TV.
But before I continue with the attack against a recall as a supposedly democratic mechanism I must clarify, what a recall is and how it does works in my country, in very simple words.
A recall simply consist on consul the people on a certain issue. The people can speak approving or rejecting this issue by answering “yes” or “no” in open elections. The Constitution defines basically two kinds of recall if I remember correctly (I’m not, and I don’t pretend to be on the limits of this blog, an expert on my Constitution or any legal issue).
One is the one I already explained: The consultative recall (“referendo consultivo”) and it has never been done in the country as far as I know although it was requested by the opposition one time; and the second is the revocation recall (“referendo revocatorio”) and by the use of this mechanism, the people are able to bring down any charge of popular elections by just saying “yes, we want this guy to keep on his rule” or “no, we don’t want it”.
Now, the ways to make a recall were never perfectly clear on the constitution. In general for both recalls all you have to is to pick up a certain number of signatures asking for that recall and gave it to the CNE (the electoral institution). The consultative recall can be asked anytime, or well, depends on the issue and the “referendo revocatorio” only when the governor, deputy, mayor… or even the president has reached to the half of its period.
>During the strike Venezuela experienced a highly polarized situation that made us think that the only solution possible was to appeal to the recall.
So first, the opposition asked for a consultative recall for ask the people of Venezuela if they were agree with Chavez rule or not. Was a weird request, since that is a question to be only applied in the case of a “referendo revocatorio” And when the request was rejected, a long and incredible difficult road for the opposition started in order to ask for the “referendo revocatorio”.
At first, new signatures were picked up in a big event called “El firmazo” at the end of the strike in February, 2003. But those signatures were quickly rejected by the CNE.
Rough negotiations started, the rules about how to request a recall and how to pick up the signatures wasn’t very clear and the government (because in Venezuela, no matter if you want to admit it or not, for a very long time, all the institutions are part of the same government and commander; forget about Montesquieu folks!) was pretty much interested on made them darker.
Finally, after a long waiting and many negotiations we reached to a second picking up signatures event who was called by the opposition the “reafirmazo” and it wasn’t just one day like the first time but the event actually extended for two days around October, 2003 (I don’t remember the exact date, all I know is that it was when I was starting my second year of the university). My political party for that time sent me to one of the centers to pick up signatures near by home.
It was hard for political parties to be involved in those events since they were pretty much bad seen and the people preferred the sponsorship of the “Citizens Assembly”, means of the civil non political and even anti political society. So I couldn’t enter the center for picking up signatures itself, but rather stayed outside, coordinating the lines of people waiting to sign and given them instructions about how to fill the forms and sign correctly. This event was carefully watched by the CNE (electoral institution) and it even included one witness from the government or more likely, government supporter, from the government party to monitor the whole process.
Those signings were the ones that eventually made part of the famous “Tascón” List. How those signatures managed to get from the electoral institution to the hands of some pro-government deputy (his name is Luis Tascón, therefore, the name of the list); and why that deputy was allowed to later publish that list on his web site starting a tough political discrimination against the people who are part of that list; is still a big mystery.
And why after that, many people still consider our government as democratic and tolerant with free expression is even harder to explain.
What’s even more important to notice about this issue is that this discrimination started in 2004, those serious events happened years ago; the closing of RCTV is just another event of a chain of many events that the world never paid enough attention and that they were as firmly against free expression as the very recent closing of RCTV is.
The negotiations on the signatures issue continued for several months. Among the opposition, the anger and frustration for not being able to see the validation of their signatures they made for the second time, asking for a constitutional right, increased dramatically.
The OEA and the Carter Centre were busy, ever since the General Strike (or even before), on working on negotiations between the government and the opposition but they could never give the answers that the population were expecting and they allowed (in my opinion, because they had no other choice) many illegal moves from the government.
Among the craziest moves to reject the signatures, the “reparos” was probably the most surreal one. The CNE (electoral council) came one day with a very weird stance. It was already well known that the opposition contrary of what many people related to the government and the president itself stood, picked up the number of signatures that it was necessary by law to ask for a recall. Many of those signatures were rejected at first, including my mom’s one. And the remaining needed to be “made again” by this event called “reparos”.
The CNE (electoral council) published a preliminary list of valid signatures but it declares that it had doubts, still, of the authenticity of those signatures. So it was necessary to make a “reparo” (“repair”). In other words, you needed to go, all over again, to “repair” your signature. This “repair” consisted on signing again if that signature was truly yours or even counting that it was truly yours the “arrepentimiento” (Spanish word for repentance) was allowed and you could go there and remove your signature off the list. Means, if you were a bad boy and dared to commit the sin of signing against the good boy Chávez, you could confess and regret of your evil actions. I still don’t know about the penitence though.
Many people, who were already starting to fear about the consequences of signing in terms of losing their jobs with the government, came to the “repairs” and removed their signatures. I heard of many people that were already threatened about losing their jobs if they didn’t remove their signatures. An ironic thing about the “repairs” is that many signs could be removed from the list (making in it an impossibility to ask for a recall against Chavez’s rule) but if you didn’t sign before or your signature for some reason didn’t appeared on the list, you couldn’t sign again or ask for anything. The process was only for people included and already on the list.
In my case, I could finally get my new Venezuelan ID and sign up in the CNE (electoral council) as a voter a few days before the “repairs”. I was 19 and desperate to participate in the process, means really to participate, as my friends were doing. But since I could not sign in the previous events, I had nothing to do at the “repairs”, except working at the event, as a volunteer.
Then, and just as the first picking up signatures event, the “firmazo” and the second: the “reafirmazo”; during the “repairs” I was assigned to a picking up signatures center nearby home in order to bring logistical support to the process. In this case, there weren’t long lines, just people coming randomly since it was a very limited amount of people the one who had right to participate in that process.
Among those signatures that the electoral council judged they needed a “repair” it was the one of my boyfriend back then. During the second picking up signatures event, my ex boyfriend quickly signed on a centre near by the university.
My university it’s surrounded by many poor slums and they were really pro- government or at least controlled by government supporters. I can’t tell today if they still are pro- government areas, they probably are.
My mom and I gave him a drive to that centre so he could quickly make the “repair” of his signature, which in his case was to “confirm” that signature. He entered the center and my mom and I parked the car and abandon it for a minute while we were standing at the center entrance making us sure he was ok inside. He confirmed his signature, as normal and we came quickly back to the car. We were a little bit frightened because there were a couple of men chanting pro – Chávez consigns right next to us.
Then, my mom started driving and said “I feel something in my eyes”, and a few seconds later I started coughing a little. My ex boyfriend, sitting in the back seat could not understand what was going on. My mom started crying because she felt an unbelievable burn in her eyes, nose and well her skin in general and I felt it too, was pretty weird. Because neither my ex- boyfriend nor I knew how to drive back then, she had to continue driving; I still don’t know how she managed to drive with that smarting across her face.
I was supposed to come back to the centre I was working at but the three of us went back home because both my mom and I felt really bad. When we finally get home, we immediately noticed the cause of our allergies: there was some strange yellow substance, like corn oil or something on the hand-kief of the front doors of the car. My ex wasn’t touched by it because he sat in the back, but both my mom and I touched that substance, for no longer than the second it takes to open the door and get into the car and probably touched our faces with the substance in our hands or something. It had also a very strong smell and damaged the car painting a little. I still can’t tell what this substance was exactly.
We knew right away it was because we went there to confirm a signature and since the place was filled with Chavez supporters, two of them chanting, we don’t want to make accusations but I can’t honestly think of anyone else to blame. Was just another example of a brand new hate spread among Venezuelans.
About the pic: I found this graffiti in Caracas downtown, a few months ago, means "Out the tyrant" or something like that...