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 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. “Chavez 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 is also in the crowds, too young to vote, 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 Chavez as the person to vote for if anything happened to him, and the commitment had held strong. Unlike Chavez, however, Maduro had failed to capture a landslide percentage, as had become the norm in recent Presidential elections. His victory margin set of a war of rhetoric, continuing the trend of the political campaigns that preceded; Maduro took to the 23 de enero barrio to proclaim the continuation of the Bolivarian revolution, whereas an hour later, in 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 recognise the results of the election.
Capriles has spoken a lot about wanting to follow a peaceful route over the last two days. However, there is an implicit contradiction in calling for peace whilst 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 in the evening, a form of protest consisting of a co-ordinated banging of kitchen pots, first made popular amongst 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 [National Electoral Council]. Minister of Communication Andres Izarra posted online that some were threatening to burn the house of his father. Henrique Capriles also called for a demonstration to take place outside the headquarters of the CNE on Wednesday; are we to expect the same kind of peaceful behaviour from his supporters?
In October, it seems, the force of the tide which swept Chavez to victory, with more votes than he had ever received before, was simply deemed too powerful to scale. This time around, however, Maduro was over half a million votes down on his predecessor, and Capriles had increased his vote by a similar amount to narrow the gap. However, close election results are not a stranger to systems considered by many as democratic. In the UK, none of the three mainstream parties won, and so two parties “teamed together” to form a government, as if that had been a hidden option unwittingly voted for by the majority of the British public. The “coalition” government, as well as their Labour “opposition”, wish to mourn the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; she gained power with a vote of 40%. But since Sunday’s election, both the United States and the European Union have failed to recognise 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. Despite the fact that Venezuela has one of the most open, safe and fair voting systems in the vote, with seven individual measures to ensure the security of the vote.
So why, I wonder, the double standards in the case of Venezuela? In the UK, the Guardian newspaper reported that elections in Venezuela ended in “turmoil”. Why does a close election result automatically mean turmoil, but in “first-world” countries simply the exercise of democracy? Is it because this is a country rich in resources, rich in oil, and refusing to follow the dictates of foreign powers? Foreign Minister Elias Jaua called the Venezuelan ambassador to Spain for consultations yesterday after the Spanish government said they would not recognise 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 recognised 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.