Radical Educator Collective

An educator blog dedicated to political and educational news all around the world.

Author: Sarah Chambers

Elections in Venezuela Before and After Chavez

Our elections are very unique with many checks and balances. They are one of the most secure in the world

Dozthor Zurlent

Before Chavez, most poor people could not vote, since they did not have IDs. In Venezuela, you need an ID to vote. In the preChavez period, when poor people wanted to get an ID, they would have to go the night before or in the early morning to the place where IDs are made. People would lose a whole day or night, waiting in lines for an ID.

Then, if they made it through hours of waiting in line, they would only receive a paper receipt showing that they applied for the ID. To people’s frustration, it could take weeks or months for them to actually receive their ID. In some cases, the government would even “lose their application” and they would have to wait in line again. The wealthy didn’t worry about waiting in line because they could pay the workers to receive their IDs immediately.

This wasn’t the conservative government’s only way of suppressing poor people from voting. They also placed the voting centers mostly in middle class neighborhoods. Many poor people had to walk very far distances to find a polling place and when they arrived at the polling places, lines would go on for blocks and blocks.

If people were able to overcome all these obstacles and arrive at the polling station, they were greeted with more hurdles. At the entrance of the polling station, everyone is given one card for each political party or person. To vote, they had to place the card of their preferred candidate in the ballot box.

To exit, they had to return all the cards of candidates they didn’t vote for to militants of right wing political parties waiting at the exit of the voting centers. The people collecting the cards then knew exactly who they voted for. They would proceed to bully or threaten people who didn’t vote for their candidates. If someone was a government worker, they could be threatened with losing their job.

This cumulation of voter suppression and the frustration with corrupt candidates of the ruling class caused extremely low voter turnout of the poor Venezuelan people, living in las favelas. Since over 60% of Venezuelans lived in poverty, the ruling class preferred them staying home, rather than voting.

What most people don’t realize, in 1998, when Chavez was elected, it was mostly middle class people who voted for him. Many poor people did not vote for him because of the voter suppression. Many middle class people favored Chavez since they were becoming increasingly worried about how the conditions of Venezuela could cause a poor person revolt against them. Many liked that Chavez was from the military and could “restore order” to the country. They did not know that he would spend the rest of his life and his presidency, fighting for the rights of the poor people, improving their living conditions and strengthening their voice in determining the direction of the country.

After Chavez won the 1998, election, he was determined to fix the voting system, so ALL Venezuelans could vote, without difficulties. He started by creating a program that would provide people with immediate IDs, so they didn’t have to wait in line or wait months to receive their IDs.

Chavez also made voter registration almost automatic. When children are 9 years old, they are brought to an office to get an ID number. When they turned 18, this number meant they were already registered, so they were able to vote. They just had to register their voting center based on their address of residency.

This ID number also prevented voter fraud. When a Venezuelan leaves the country, the ID is checked off. This way, someone else in Venezuela cannot pretend to be them and vote. The person traveling is able to vote abroad. Also, when someone dies, their ID number is immediately marked as deceased to prevent people from voting for the dead.

But presenting the proper ID is not enough to vote. There is a fingerprint machine checking the real identity of the voter. When people arrive at the polling room, they cannot vote without placing their fingerprint on a fingerprint machine and matching that fingerprint with their ID. Each ID number is assigned a specific room to vote in. If the voter passes the fingerprint test, then the fingerprint machine would activate the voting machine allowing the voter to exercise their vote.

To make voting more accessible in every neighborhood, Chavez opened up voting sites in poorer areas and added more voting rooms in each site, so voting would be faster and people wouldn’t have to wait in line for too long.

All these improvements helped people arrive at the polls to vote, but Chavez’ administration knew he had to fix the internal voting ballot system. To find the system that could provide the results faster, they analyzed voting systems from around the world. Also, companies from various countries submitted voting machines to the Venezuelan government. Interestingly enough, the Venezuelan government caught several loopholes in some of the proposals submitted by US corporations.

In the end, Chavez administration chose a system that was most democratic, with many checks and balances. The system changed where the candidate/political party cards still existed but the voter had and electronic sheet with all the candidates cards included. They just had to press the option or options of their preferences depending on the type of election and then press the VOTAR button. It was an electronic vote.

Immediately, the machine would print a paper stating how they voted. They would then proceed to deposit the paper in a sealed cardboard box. Afterwards, they would go to a table to sign the voting notebook on the page and row corresponding to their name and ID number, stating that they voted.

Once the voting process ends, the members of the voting room would proceed to electronically transmit the local results to the national servers center. Once the transmission is successful, they proceed to print the machine local results on a paper roll. They would provide a printed copy to all political parties witnessing the process which are allowed to be present during the whole journey. They would then proceed to turn off the voting machine and open the sealed box with the printout voting papers and proceed to count them. The total results on the paper roll, the signatures on the voting registration, and the voting papers must add up to be the same number.

Fifty percent of the voting rooms results are audited in the presence of the public willing to participate and the political parties witnesses, by counting the voting printout papers and matching the results with the voting machine paper roll. They must match again for every political party or individual candidate results.

While this counting is taking place, there are plenty of national and international observers from all over the world. Every Latin American country usually sends observers as does the UN.

Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with this new democratic process. The opposition wants to return to the way elections were run before Chavez, to disenfranchise poor black and brown voters once again.

During the 2018 Guarimbas, President Nicolas Maduro called for people to elect a National Constituency Assembly. The opposition had, again, organized this Guarimba to create conditions for a civil war, by inciting violence. They built huge barricades, started to burn tires and placed armed gangs all over Venezuela’s voting areas. These Guarimbas blocked the streets so people could not drive. They would not even let people walk past, they would threaten to shoot them if they wanted to vote. If you read the previous blog posts, these armed gangs were funded and supported by the CIA.

The electrical system was also attacked during the time of the election through bombing and burning of electrical poles, towers and stations.

I had to leave my house at 3am, with no electricity, to go vote. It was pitch black outside. The opposition had also cut down several trees so cars couldn’t pass. My friends and I used brooms to sweep the ground to find our way and get rid of spikes that the opposition had put all over the ground to destroy the tires of vehicles daring to try to pass through. We had to cut tree trunks in several pieces and collect the spikes to open the road for people to be able to reach the voting centers. In some places, things got worse, and when armed gangs saw people willing to vote, they started shooting at them. A lot of people experienced this. In Tachira State people crossed rivers to bypass the armed gangs and be able vote. At the end of the day people had elected a new National Constituency Assembly. Peace won and guarimbas were finally defeated.

Dozthor Zurlent

EDIT (07/14/19): This post previously stated that the Carter Center supported the Venezuelan elections, as stated by one of the members of our collective. It has been brought to our attention that this was not the case, and the statement has been redacted.

Meeting with the Director of International Affairs for the Ministry of Communes

We, the people, learn to adjust, we keep the struggle going and we continue to follow El Plan de la Patria (The Plan for the Motherland).

Vladimir Castillo, Director of International Affairs for the Ministry of Communes
Pictured above ,from left: Richard Berg, Vladimir Castillo, Sarah Chambers, Fabiana Casas, Valeria Vargas

During our meeting with Vladimir Castillo, he shared an interesting anecdote when beginning the conversation of Hugo Chavez and his relation to communes.

While on a trip to Italy, Chavez and other Venezuelan leaders were walking around after a ceremony when someone offered them olive oil and an olive plate. 

Chavez loved it and asked, “Where is this made?”

The vendor replied that it was made in his commune. 

In that seemingly minor interaction, Chavez was introduced to the very idea of communes. Communes are a community of people living in a specific area that make collective decisions on projects they would like to work on.

In that vendor’s area, they had a plethora of olive trees, so they used the funds to set up their own business selling olive oil, etc. After the people submitted their proposals, the mayor or a council of mayors had the power to approve the proposals.

This idea of communes was based on a structure that came from the Roman period. 

Chavez liked this idea of collective participatory democracy, but was critical of the mayor having too much control over how the funds were used. Chavez reflected on this idea of communes and researched more into communes in China and other countries. 

We discussed communes and community councils a lot today in our meeting with Vladimir Castillo, the Venezuelan Director of International Affairs. Chavez started to talk about socialism in 2005, at the World Social Forum in Brazil. A few years after 2007/2008, community councils emerged as part of the vision that Chavez had about how to build socialism in Venezuela. 

Community councils are comprised of around 100 families living in the same area, 400-500 people. Chavez also has communes in mind, as a fundamental part of the new Socialist State. Communes were organizations stretching several community councils. When communes began, there were a lot of difficulties to channel funds to them. They were neither part of the state nor corporations. They were just organized communities not able to exercise the full strength of their power. The government ended up creating a new set of laws, the Popular Power Laws, which allowed the government to provide money to them directly, and by doing so, the government empowered communes. 

Projects received different amounts depending on the needs and the scale of the projects. The funds would go to a communal account under the direct responsibility of 2 members of the communes, and the supervision of the commune board and the community as a whole, to be sure that it is correctly being managed and going to the stated projects. 

Vladimir stated that it was easier to form communes in the countryside, since many were naturally working together to farm, and to produce goods. It also came naturally to indigenous people, since they often live in collective communities working together. The essence of communes was to produce goods and services, to obtain sustainability, and to address community issues in order for people to improve their own living conditions.

A major benefit of the communes and socialism is that it makes society less individualistic since groups of people are working together to decide thier needs and how to work collectively towards solutions.

Vladimir Castillo, Director of International Affairs for the Ministry of Communes

This is why Venezuela became a threat to the USA. The USA do not want people to realize that another world is possible with justice and love.

Our world of justice and love in Venezuela includes 2.6 million families, receiving housing units for free or for a symbolic price. It means 10 million people set free from a life of deprivation and discrimination in the favelas(poor shacks). Dignify housing is a Venezuelans right now. The economic war has decimated our salaries. We earn an average of $40 dollars a month but we are resisting. If someone would tell you that they can live with $40 a month, you would think they are crazy. Here you can live with $40 a month since so much is free or subsidized. Most of our utilities and what we need to live is free or incredibly cheap, such as electricity, water, gas, gasoline and housing. Once you own a house you do not have to pay taxes on it. Another program the government is implementing is the CLAP (Production and Delivery Local Committees). Boxes with food, like rice, spaghetti, beans, powder milk, cooking oil, corn flour, wheat flour among other items are delivered to 6 million families on a monthly basis. Our schooling, college and healthcare are also free. This is why you can live on $40 a month.

VLADIMIR CASTILLO, Director of International Affairs for the Ministry of Communes

The Venezuelan government has transformed their state budget where 75% of the nation’s budget goes to social programs. What country in the world does that? In the USA, 50% of our budget goes to war. Imagine if that money was put into education, healthcare, etc?

Unfortunately, all is not rosy in Venezuela. The mainstream news is right that there are some issues in Venezuela, but where they are wrong is who has created those issues. Thousands of people have died here because they do not have insulin. Who is the biggest vendor of insulin? The USA. 

USA and European sanctions against Venezuela have caused thousands of deaths. USA imposes these sanctions on other countries too. If another country trades with Venezuela, the USA will threaten to cut off trade with them or impose sanctions on that country.

Luckily, even with these sanctions and the crisis caused by the imperialist USA, Venezuela is friends with (and can trade with) countries, such as Russia, China, Turkey, South Africa, India, Iran and Cuba, among others. But since the USA has frozen and stolen Venezuela’s money in international banks, the Venezuelan government has serious difficulties to pay for medicines and for food that other countries sell to it. 

Maintaining trade with countries that have fought against US imperialism & continuing the social programs, even during difficulty times, has prevented the crisis from destroying the advancement of socialism. 

Before Chavez took over in 1998, 60-70% of the inhabitants were in poverty, 53% of the poor were in critical poverty. After 14-15 years of Chavez’ leadership, 12-14% of Venezuelans were in poverty, and only 5% were in critical poverty. Social programs have not dwindled or stopped, they actually advanced. None of the schools or clinics were closed even during the most severe times of the US’ economic war on Venezuela. Money going to social programs actually increased and more houses being built to remove people from the poor shacks. 

This is all part of “El Plan de la Patria” (the Plan of the Motherland) that was created collectively by Chavez and the Venezuelan people. Maduro is continuing to carry out this plan even under very difficult attacks.

“Maduro has not had one day of peace. Every day he is fighting attacks. He is not alone. We, the people, we learn to adjust, we keep the struggle going.”

VLADIMIR CASTILLO, Director of International Affairs for the Ministry of Communes

Dozthor Zurlent explained how a Venezuelan university professor did a study on Venezuelan’s health and how the economic war has affected them. He found that Venezuelans actually became healthier. The percentage of big diseases decreased. Due to the economic war, people found alternatives and ate healthier food.

Before, Venezuelan’s food mostly came from Colombia. When the economic war started, the opposition was taking the food, especially the staple food and bringing it to Colombia. They were hoarding food and also daily items like toothpaste and toilet paper. 

Dozthor explained, “When this economic war began, I had just gone to the store to buy a couple of toothpaste containers for 68 bolivares. While I was walking, a guy stopped me and asked if he could pay me 300 bolivares to buy my toothpaste. I questioned, “Why would he want to do this if I just bough the toothpaste for much cheaper.” 

Later, we realized the opposition was hoarding the food and supplies to cause a crisis.

After the opposition thought that people were fed up with the food and supply shortages, they started direct violent actions with the intent to provoke a civil war like in Syria. They called them Guarimbas a Venezuelan name for the hide and seek game. Armed gangs began to burn tires and form barricades to block streets and entrances into neighborhoods. 

Where did these armed gangs come from? The bourgeoisie and CIA paid poor people money to carry out Guarimbas and this violence. They would go into these very poor areas and find boys who were already in trouble or involved in violence or selling drugs and the CIA would provide the money to pay them. 

Dozthor spoke of how they were able to one day stop one Guarimba from starting. The Chavistas went into a poor neighborhood where some other poor people had told them that boys were going to get paid to start a Guarimba. They brought a soccer ball, and then took them over to a soccer field. The boys ended up playing soccer instead of participating in the violence. 

Other participants included members of the middle class neighborhoods, and radicalized university students. The Colombian paramilitaries were also involved in telling these armed gangs what to do.

The gangs would block access to the street, so people could not drive into or out of their neighborhood. People had to walk instead. Armed gangs would often make people pay to pass or they would threaten to kill them. 

The Venezuelan government wanted to use peaceful measures to stop these armed gangs. Maduro publicly told the police that they could only use water and tear gas. First, the police would try to reason with them. If that did not work, they would use water or tear gas. Then, the police would wait a few days to see if they would leave. If the Guarimbas continued, the national guard would intervene. 

Eventually, many of these gangs would halt their criminal activities because ordinary people convinced them to stop, because they got tired of police and armed forces not confronting them, or because the opposition leaders stopped paying them, usually because they would steal the money the CIA would funnel through them to support the Guarimbas. 

There were 4 different times where these Guarimbas started. Each time, they would follow a period of extreme economic pressure on the Venezuelan people. First in 2008, then in 2013, followed by one almost immediately in 2014 and lastly in 2017. 

The economic war was accompanied by cycles of the CIA pushing negative social media and news propaganda, followed by violence with the Guarimbas. The CIA expected that the the people would join these opposition forces, but it has never worked. Civil war did not happen. The people wouldn’t stand for it. They saw that the US backed opposition was violent and not for the people.

“The USA wanted to remove the idea of socialism from our hearts and minds, but it only grew stronger. Even during these intense attacks, social programs only grew.”

Dozthor Zurlent, EDUCATOR FOR THE VENEZUELAN MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

Did you know?

Before Hugo Chavez’ election in 1999:

  • 65% of Venezuelan people lived below the international poverty line
  • Only 30% could afford meat, coffee & basic goods
  • 1.5 million adult Venezuelans were illiterate
  • Nearly half the population was forced to live in the barrios

By 2013, the year of Hugo Chavez’ death:

  • Poverty had fallen by more than half
  • Food consumption was up by 80%
  • In 2005, the country was declared fully literate
  • Quality housing was declared a right and public housing began to replace the unsatisfactory living conditions

#CTUAgainstVezIntervention🇻🇪

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