Someone impersonating my identity, THIS IS NOT ME:
LIFE ON WHEELS COLLECTION
Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.
Someone impersonating my identity, THIS IS NOT ME:
I can’t believe that I haven’t read such a headline in the last 48 hours since three citizens in the USA were murdered at their home by a gun-toting, racist individual who lived next door to them. Deah Barakat, aged 23, and his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, aged 21, were being visited by her younger sister Razan, aged 19. All three were to be martyred, for no other reason than the way they look, and what they believe in.
If Islam was a violent religion in any sense of the term, would a world with 1.6 billion Muslims spread across the entire Earth be safe from terrorism for one second? In fact, to use one example, 87% of mass shootings in the US are committed by Caucasians aged 13-56, which I have a feeling might not completely reflect the common perception of terrorist attacks.
Unlike crimes where Muslims are the perpetrator, the word is “terrorist” is never even thought about, let alone beamed across the media in the hours following the event. With the exception of the Independent, not a single mainstream media organisation had this as a top story – the Guardian didn’t even have it as a story! The Metro settled for a brief item on page 23. It would be almost unbelievable, but only if we had expected anything else.
The reaction of the victims’ families is inspiring, and conveys the psychological and emotional strength of people with real faith in their heart.
Crimes like this could happen on a much more regular basis if the media are allowed to continue to propagate an unending, constant stream of anti-Islamic rhetoric and “opinion”. I’m not shy to say this – Craig Hicks killed these three young people because they were Muslim. We were then shown interviews with Hicks’ wife, who says they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is to say, at home, and neighbours who said that Hicks’ was unfriendly to everyone regardless of their background. I would have to observe that none of his other neighbourly disputes resulted in a triple murder.
Deah, Yusor and Razan are going to touch the hearts of millions, just like they did mine. They didn’t lose their lives for nothing.
The corridors are always packed in the Metropolitan Council of Popular Power for People with Disabilities, situated in a building just down the street from Plaza Diego Ibarra in Caracas. Wheelchairs come and go, sometimes squeezing to the side in order to let another person pass ﬁrst. In a small area just behind the front door, which is frequently opened and closed as new visitors come inside, Jose Suarez is leaning back in his chair, relaxed, chatting with a friend. It seemed to contrast with the tension I had witnessed on the streets outside, in the days following Nicolas Maduro’s Presidential election victory on April 14th.
“Firstly, yes I voted”, says Jose, turning his attention in my direction. “I voted this time and on October 7th as well. Really, it is right that we all have, and especially people with disabilities. But more than a right, it’s a commitment that we have to the nation.
As disabled people, we are proud of this process. The Bolivarian process has put us into the public light, recognized us as human beings and included us in the political base”.
Since my arrival in Venezuela just over seven months ago, I have often been struck by the visibility of disabled people, particularly in Caracas. I am walking towards Plaza Bolivar on a warm afternoon when I notice Ramon, a blind man, being helped along the path by a member of staff from the Metro. Perhaps helping travellers with disabilities is a matter of due course inside stations for Metro workers in many countries, but here they had already walked some distance from the nearest Capitolio stop.
When the Metro worker leaves, I speak with Ramon. He too, is eager to affirm that he is “with the process”, but suggests that the recognition Jose had mentioned still has a long way to go.
“The problem is that the law still doesn’t have its enforcement. There a group of articles [from the 2006 Law for People with Disabilities] concerning our rights, but those carrying the most weight are 28 and 38. These are what we are discussing now, but we need unity on the matter. Nevertheless, the government has a huge capacity for construction. They have achieved what no government has achieved. They have given what no government has given. Maduro should take charge of this affair. But, we are asking for political participation. We want to have disabled people at the front of the Municipal Councils, but also in the [National] Assembly! I would like to see representatives for disabled people in the PSUV. That level of political participation still hasn’t arrived for us. Participation and protagonism!”
The question of political representation is an important one, and a concern shared not only by Ramon. Back at the Metropolitan Council, Luis Roja, a leading ﬁgure of the organization, says that he is proud of their independence from the government, but that something more is needed.
“It seems that ﬁrst our rights were originally passed onto the Ministry of Health, as if we have illnesses, but we are not sick. It’s an important distinction we should make. We’re not just a small group, we are hundreds of thousands, and we are asking Maduro to create a speciﬁc government ministry for people with disabilities. That is something which needs to happen! The ﬁrst thing we have in mind is the law. Article 28 stipulates that public institutions must employ disabled people as at least 5% of their workforce. This means that disabled people are leaving their houses; we are going out to sustain our families”.
Former opposition candidate Henrique Capriles spent much of his pre-election campaign promising that he would keep beneﬁts and missions for disabled people in place, although his subsequent refusal to accept the results of the elections, even after they were audited, has thrown into doubt his ability to co-operate with democratic institutions. Capriles promised that he would deliver the “change” that Venezuela needed, but many disabled citizens, to the contrary, see Capriles as a symbol of the old political forces which ignored them for so long.
I ask Jose Suarez for his opinion on the violent events which followed the opposition’s refusal to accept the results. Capriles made a speech just one hour after they were announced, calling for his supporters to “show the world [their] rage”.
“It will always be like this”, says Jose. They are never going to feel satisﬁed because they lost. It doesn’t matter if they are presidential, municipal or parish elections. They are always going to be screaming and crying, speciﬁcally because of Henrique Capriles Radonski. Capriles is not going to accept the results, because he comes from a part of society that had become accustomed to using such tactics and getting their own way. They don’t understand that in the last fourteen years, things have changed. If the majority of people say Nicolas Maduro is the president now, then Nicolas Maduro is the president.A few of the leaders of the opposition want to deceive their followers because they can’t believe they have suffered yet another loss to the revolution, but, thanks to God, they are a minority, even amongst their supporters. But also we should say that we have a conscious, revolutionary people who are mentally and ideologically prepared”.
“Why are we revolutionaries?” asks Luis, rhetorically. “Because we were excluded from society in the years before. The por ahora was an awakening for people with disabilities. The governments of the Fourth Republic had a badly-named law for people with “incapacities”. Just with the name of that law, they assassinated our rights as human beings. So the por ahora served as something of an internal revolution amongst people with disabilities”.
“Before Hugo Chavez, I never voted. They had a political system like sharing out a cake”, afﬁrms Jose. “What the revolution has provided is a space for disabled people, a space for us to project our voices. The process hasn’t given me a house, or a car. I work, but the process didn’t give me a job. But I know people, friends and family, humble people in need of those things, who have beneﬁted greatly”.
I meet Alexander as he is travelling from one line of the Metro to another in his electric wheelchair, holding on to the sides of the escalators for stability.
“Before, we never had any support”, he tells me. “We didn’t have a base. I voted because we want a free country. The opposition don’t have a choice, because our rights are in law now. The law applies to everyone. But Capriles wouldn’t even remember us”.
Recent weeks have been a time of reﬂection for disabled people here, as they have for many Venezuelans. The struggle remains for disabled people not only to be visible in society, but to lead the narrative on the fulﬁlment of their rights as citizens. But even more than laws or articles, it is a self-respect that disabled people stride with today. The road is a long one, but the wheelchair tracks are being marked into the earth.
“We don’t shut the doors to anyone here”, says Luis. I ask him what his position is at the council. As we talk, people come and go, discussing and joking with each other, often contributing to Luis’ responses to my questions with their own thoughts and suggestions.
Luis smiles. “I’m just another one.”
Yesterday, in the National Assembly and in front of continental and world leaders, Nicolas Maduro Moros was officially sworn in as the President of Venezuela. The centre of Caracas was filled with supporters, yet again; how many times have I said that now? It feels as if I have lost count since arriving here exactly seven months ago. You cannot describe these as marches, because there is barely space to move. Demonstrations of solidarity, of love, and now, of defiance in the face of attack.
Maduro’s swearing-in also marked the anniversary of Venezuela independence. During his acceptance speech, he referred to the people of the country as “an army of liberators”, and says that the United States’ recognition of his electoral victory, which has still not been announced, “does not interest him”.
The banging of pots begins at 8pm every night here. The cacerolazos, called for by Henrique Capriles after he refused to accept his narrow defeat in the Presidential elections. On Thursday evening we took a walk through the La Candelaria neighbourhood, where I first lived upon arrival in the city. Here, the noise is almost deafening. Occasionally, you catch a glimpse of someone leaning out of an apartment window in one of the high-storey buildings, but mostly the people behind the sounds remain out of sight. Nevertheless, the stunning nature of the result is something that is impossible to ignore.
“The worst thing is,” Norma, a government-supporter responsible for organising people in her local area tells me, “there were Chavistas who went out to vote for Capriles. We were missing his character… we were lacking our maximum leader. There is no-one who can replace him.”
“The opposition want to commit a coup d’etat, there is no doubt about it,” Norma continues, “they are deliberately deceiving their own followers by demanding something they know will not happen and would not make a difference to the result. Eight people have been killed already, so why have the police not put those responsible in prison?”
At the Friday demonstration, I find long queues lining up in Plaza Bolivar to sign a petition calling for Henrique Capriles to face the law. José Rivero, standing nearby, is keen to explain to me:
“Capriles made the call, and he is responsible for the deaths that have happened. He has to be held to account. The opposition think we can return to some kind of monarchy, but the people here are strugglers, we are fighters. The importance of today is to show that, to show that we are a sovereign, independent and free nation. When Maduro said that, from the Tuesday coming, we will have ‘governments of the streets’, it says that sovereignty lies with the people.”
Maduro is speaking in a defiant tone. But there is an underlying tension that remains. “How can they have lost over half a million votes in a few months?” says Jamal. “It really makes me sad, there are people that had no homes before, nowhere to live, and now they have homes, but are fighting each other, brother against brother! How can you forget so quickly and go out to vote for Capriles?”
There are problems that have been exasperated by dramatic events; two Presidential election campaigns, regional elections across the country and, of course, the passing away of Hugo Chavez have left financial speculation increasing, and food prices rising.
“But how would Capriles resolve these problems?” asks Jamal. “He won’t. The truth about the opposition is that they do not care about anyone when they’re trying to get into power. This is a country where the last two Presidents have been poor people. Hugo Chavez was selling sweets in the streets for his grandmother… they called him the arañero. Nicolas Maduro was a bus driver! I have a daughter in this country, and it makes me believe that she could be President one day. Not because she was born with a golden spoon in her mouth, but even with a wooden spoon.”
“It’s like the American dream,” Jamal laughs, “but it’s different.”
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.
For Rabble magazine:
Sol has a long journey to get to work every day, living in Junquitos, an hour’s bus drive into the mountains outside of Caracas. On Sunday, the collectively-run café she works at was shut, but Sol was awake even earlier than usual. At three am, she was helping to organise her local voting station and making sure people knew which table they were registered to vote at. By eight am, she was driving around in a car, looking for disabled or elderly people who might need help walking to their voting station. “Of course, we all need to vote,” Sol says, “they will not return.”
My younger brother had noted that with all their rhetoric and brimming with confidence, it was hard to remember that the opposition party have never won a Presidential election here. However, in the opinion of many Venezuelans, they have won, and were winning for the forty-years of punto-fijismo, or “pacted democracy” that prevailed before Hugo Chavez first came into power in 1998. So “no volveran”, or “they will not return”, has been a commonly-heard phrase in recent days.
Sobhan, an eldery man, was born in Guyana, but has lived in Venezuela for many years. I notice the ubiquitous purple-ink stained on his little finger that afternoon, one of seven measures imposed by the CNE [National Electoral Council] to ensure the security of the vote. “I voted for us,” Sobhan tells me, a careful smile lighting up his features.
These are more than political elections that take place in Venezuela. To realise that, you only needed to visit Avenida Urdaneta and the approach to Miraflores, the Presidential palace, in the hours leading up to the announcement of results. The voting tables had officially closed at 6pm, and it was clear that millions had gone out to vote for both Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez’ appointed successor and Henrique Capriles, his wealthily-backed electoral opponent. But that evening, just like at previous elections, it was a sea of government supporters that had flooded the streets. Here, perhaps, was a contradiction of the Venezuelan system. The elections, undoubtedly clean, had been carried out with calm and without fear, in perhaps one of the most democratic systems in the world. However, with a couple hours still to go before results would be announced, a party atmosphere had descended on Avenida Urdaneta. I couldn’t help to wonder, where would these people go if Capriles were to be announced winner? They had travelled from the barrios, they had struggled for many years, they had received homes, education and medicine when they had none before. Would they really just lay down and die for an election result?
“Look, we’ve already got experience of the electoral process,” says Yennetor, a woman in her forties. “We have a process that is well organised. We went out to vote with a political commitment, but also with a moral and sentimental commitment to Commandante Chavez. So there is a feeling of sadness, but we are in the streets right now to show the opposition that we are taking care of Miraflores, because for us Miraflores is a symbol of our participative democracy.”
At 11.20pm, Nicolas Maduro was announced as the next President of Venezuela. The name didn’t surprise me, but the figures certainly did. Both candidates had received over seven million votes, with a participation rate of 78%. Maduro had received around 700,000 votes less than Chavez in the October elections, and Capriles had received 550,000 more than he had last time round. Maduro had won the elections by less than 2%. However, whereas Chavez, winning in October by a significant landslide, had spoken from the “balcony of the people” in Miraflores, in the middle of the night, to speak of dialogue, unity and tolerance, Maduro, winning by far less than expected, was in a far more victorious mood. Nevertheless, underneath the bravado, he must be realising the task that now faces him. Of course, as the government quickly pointed out, they had accepted an electoral defeat, their only electoral defeat, in 2007, of just 0.1%, but you could not mistake the tension in the air.
Capriles waited for little over an hour before calling a press conference. His face was full of anger, his voice seething with rage. He had refused to commit to recognising the results of the election beforehand, as had every other Presidential candidate, and now he was coming good on his threat. He accused Maduro of losing the elections, and demanded that a re-count be held.
The Venezuelan Presidential elections took place on April 14th, 2013. Eleven years earlier, on the very same date, Hugo Chavez landed at Miraflores in a helicopter after nothing short of a popular uprising had demanded his re-instatement in power after a coup d’etat of just seventy-two hours crumbled and fell. There is much at stake in Venezuela; the oil interests of imperialist powers, the homes of the poor majority, and the elites who lost their grip on power almost fifteen years ago. Too much to be lost or won in a single day.