Alberto Garcia lives in the Petare barrio, in the east of Caracas, but was born in Maracaibo, Zulia state. Like thousands of others, he didn’t wait for the election results to be announced before taking to Avenida Urdaneta, the road which runs through the centre of the capital up to Miraflores, the Presidential palace. ‘Chávez is more dangerous now he has died than when he was alive,’ Alberto tells me. ‘He liberated us from the imperialist powers… here, we have democracy!’
Fifteen-year-old Jonayca, too young to vote, is also in the crowds, surrounded by a group of friends from school. ‘We are here for our future,’ he says, ‘we want to defend our country.’
When the results of the Venezuelan Presidential elections were announced late on Sunday night, few were surprised by the name of the winner. Nicolas Maduro had been personally named by Hugo Chávez as the person to vote for if anything happened to him, and the commitment had held strong. Unlike Chávez, however, Maduro failed to capture a landslide victory, as had become the norm in recent Presidential elections. His narrow margin of victory set off a war of rhetoric, continuing the trend of the political campaigns that had preceded the election. While Maduro took to the 23 de Enero barrio to proclaim the continuation of the Bolivarian revolution, an hour later, on a far wealthier side of the city, his electoral opponent Henrique Capriles called a press conference in which he denounced the President-elect and refused to recognize the election results.
Over the last few days, Capriles has spoken a lot about wanting to follow a peaceful route. However, there is an implicit contradiction in calling for peace while refusing to accept the results of a democratic election, and this, unfortunately, is the message his followers have received. On Monday, Capriles called for a cacerolazo that evening, a form of protest consisting of a co-ordinated banging of kitchen pots, first made popular among the opposition to Salvador Allende in Chile in the 1970s. The cacerolazo went ahead; I could hear it from where I am staying in the city. Later that evening, Capriles’ supporters attacked the headquarters of Telesur, a news channel broadcast across Latin America. Another group of opposition supporters surrounded the home of Tibisay Lucena, the President of the CNE (the National Electoral Council). Minister of Communication Andres Izarra posted online that some of the protesters were threatening to burn down his father’s house.
Henrique Capriles also called for a demonstration to take place outside the headquarters of the CNE on Wednesday; however, by Tuesday opposition violence had caused seven deaths and over 60 injuries. Maduro said that a firm hand was needed and that the march would not be allowed to go ahead. Capriles later cancelled the march, blaming the deaths on the government, who he said were planning to ‘infiltrate’ his demonstration.
The force of the tide which swept Chávez to victory in October, with more votes than he had ever received before, seemed too powerful to scale. This time around, however, Maduro was over half a million votes down on his predecessor, and Capriles increased his vote by a similar amount to narrow the gap. However, close election results are nothing new in so-called democratic elections. (In Britain, none of the three mainstream parties won a majority the 2010 elections, and so two of them ‘teamed together’ to form a government – as if that had been a hidden option unwittingly voted for by the majority of the British public. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself gained power with only 40 per cent of the vote in 1987.)
The US and the European Union have as yet failed to recognize Maduro’s victory. On Monday, he was officially sworn in as President by the CNE; still, no recognition from the sacred tongues of the former imperialist powers. And this despite the fact that Venezuela has one of the most open, safe and fair voting systems in the world, with seven individual measures to ensure the security of the vote.
So why, I wonder, the double standards in the case of Venezuela? In Britain, the Guardian newspaper reported that elections in Venezuela ended in ‘turmoil’. Why does a close election result here automatically mean turmoil, but in ‘first-world’ countries simply means the exercise of democracy? Is it because this is a country rich in resources, refusing to follow the dictates of foreign powers? Foreign Minister Elias Jaua called the Venezuelan ambassador to Spain for consultations on Monday after the Spanish government said it would not recognize the ‘implicitly strong and clear’ results of the election. On Monday night, President Maduro took advantage of a press confidence to re-assert the position: ‘Take care, because Venezuela is free… we defeated the King of Spain a long time ago!’
Almost every government in Latin America, the real international community in this part of the world, has recognized the results of the Presidential elections and congratulated the people of the country for yet another successful democratic process. It is time for Henrique Capriles, and his backers abroad, to do the same.