It has been an interesting time to be in Venezuela over the past few days. Hearing about Venezuela from afar allows us to keep a distance from what is going on here; however, actually being here leaves a lasting impression and a keen interest in the country’s politics.
Today marks the final day of campaigning in their upcoming presidential election. On October 7, voters will make their decision between the incumbent president, Hugo Chavez, and his opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski.
President Chavez has been in power for the past 14 years. His socialist policies have made him quite popular among large segments of his people, including the poor, as is evidenced by the large number of his posters and pro-Chavez messages that are proudly displayed in and around favela neighbourhoods that I passed by today.
His slogan: “Chavez–el corazón de mi patria.” It roughly translates to “The heart of my homeland,” though the true meaning of patria cannot be properly conveyed in English, as it refers not only to country, but also culture, society, and national identity. Clearly, this is a man whose supporters believe is Venezuela.
Capriles, by contrast (according to his supporters to whom I have spoken–I do not personally know his platform), has views that are more capitalist and market oriented. His election would signal a major shift in Venezuelan politics, economics, and international relations. His slogan, “Hay un camino” (“There is a way”) inspires his followers, who have told me things like, “Fourteen years has been too long, how can we stand another five?” Others said that they fear the direction in which Venezuela is going, likening it to Communism. They also expressed frustration about the talented youth and people of means who have been leaving the country in droves because they feel that there is neither incentive nor opportunity to remain there.
Today marks the final day of the campaign season, and there are many thousands of people who have taken to the streets to march for their candidate of choice. From my hotel room over the past two days, we have heard incessant car horns honking and music being played from huge speakers tied to the backs of trucks as people campaigned and drew attention to their candidate.
There is a huge demonstration on Avenida Bolívar in downtown Caracas with thousands of people who habe gathered to show their support for, and eventually hear from, Capriles. As I write this post, I am sitting in a Japanese restaurant watching a live TV feed of the demonstration, and everyone’s eyes are glued to the screen. Dressed in slacks, a t-shirt in the red, yellow, and blue pattern of the Venezuelan flag, and a similar baseball cap, Capriles is standing on a cooler in the bed of a truck waving to his supporters as he makes his way to a stage to address them.
I cannot help but wonder what is happening in demonstrations for Chavez, but I am very uninformed. The reality is that I have not yet met a single person who has told me that he/she supports the incumbent president. Instead, I have spoken to excited people who have been saying things like, “We are going to see history today,” and “This is an important time in Venezuelan history.” There is an energy, even a tension, in the air as we approach the election.
Sadly, if I was in the USA today, I do not think that I would be seeing too much of what is going on here in Venezuela; indeed, I think that even if it was on TV, I do not know that I would be interested in watching it. Being here and being exposed to the almost palpable energy of this city certainly has made an impact. I find that I am incredibly interested in the results of this election, and I think about the substantial impact that this election will have on the Americas regardless of who wins.
I look up from writing this article to watch the coverage some more, but suddenly the screen goes dark…some type of “interference” with the signal…