sábado, 7 de julio de 2007

(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...

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