The Calm Before the Storm
Venezuela Goes to the Polls as Chávez Urges “Vote Against the Devil and Imperialism”
By Shawn O'Bryant
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
December 3, 2006
The usually bustling streets of Caracas are abandoned today as a result of the pending presidential election. Open air markets have disappeared overnight, small businesses have closed down and people are largely staying indoors. President Hugo Chavez, running on a social-populist platform has lead in nearly every poll, against the incumbent Manuel Rosales, but still Venezuela holds its breath.
The political situation remains volatile and the country has become highly polarized. In poorer areas of Caracas such as Sabana Grande support for Chavez is clear. Pro Chavez Graffiti is prominently written on sidewalks, walls and signs and Chavez posters are found on every block. If a stray Rosales poster happened to survive being peeled away, it is defaced with Hitler mustaches or devil horns in response to Chavez’s slogan “vote against the devil and imperialism.” Chavez support is made clear and seems to be on everyone’s mind.
Across town in the more chic neighborhood of Altamira, Chavez support is sharing space with Rosales. Although it seems clear that Chavez still commands a majority of the populations support, Rosales represents the interests of much of Venezuela’s big business and upper class which has felt the pressures of social democracy since Chavez took office in 1999. The opposition to Chavez is adamant, well organized, well funded and well educated. Although it seems Rosales’s party will not be democratically elected today, many Venezuelans feel that this may not keep him from making a grab for power reminiscent of the 2002 attempted coup of Chavez’s government.
And the question remains, what if the election is democratically won by Rosales? Although it seems unlikely, Rosales has dismissed polling numbers showing him trailing as unreliable. In an atmosphere so politically divided information released to the public is suspect from both sides. If the results of the election do show Rosales on top no one believes that Chavez will accept a defeat uncontested. One thing is for certain; the population of Caracas is bracing itself for conflict.
The feeling in the streets is somber. The election may go over smoothly and with no confrontation, but Venezuelans know that this is historically not the case. These uncertainties have permeated every corner of Caracas. Foreign embassies have warned its employees to stay out of the streets and to stockpile basic supplies. Many have purchased extra food, water and candles. If conflict or violence does erupt it is unclear how or when it will end.
Venezuelans today are casting their votes and waiting. As the empty streets echo silence and people begin to glue themselves to their televisions to watch for results, many fear it may be the calm before the storm.
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