Victory is Near
Seas of red-clad supporters of President Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) flooded streets nationwide this week, expressing support and pledging to vote for their candidates on Sunday. Opposition candidates led more modest, media-focused campaigns, unable to garner as much “street” support. Polls predict a sweeping win for PSUV candidates, though the opposition will retake some seats in Venezuela’s National Assembly.
Between 2001 and 2009, Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) directed $56 billion towards Venezuela’s social development. The contribution is part of the direct distribution of oil revenues to the Venezuelan people, represented most notably through industry support to Venezuela’s missions – a set of special social programs created by the government in 2003 to expedite action in priority areas for the most vulnerable segments of the population.
According to PDVSA’s 2009 Annual Report, the company gave $34 million in 2001; $14 million in 2002; $249 million in 2003; $1.2 billion in 2004; $4 billion in 2005; $10 billion in 2006; $12 billion in 2007; $14 billion in 2008; and $3 billion in 2009. The distribution of oil revenues for social missions was distributed as follows:
Ribas (education) received $2 billion; Food $1.9 billion; Barrio Adentro I, II and III (health) $5.7 billion; Vuelvan Caras (employment) $672 million; Milagro (eyesight) $159 million; Guaicaipuro (land titles) $11 million; Sucre (higher education) $807 million; Identity $46 million; Science $319 million; Housing $40 million; and Robinson I and II (education) $72 million.
Through the educational missions alone, 400,000 people have graduated and others are studying thanks to the investment of oil revenues.
PDVSA’s President, Rafael Ramirez, said that oil policy in Venezuela “is national, sovereign, popular and revolutionary. We must take that income and pay the social debt owed to our people, which is why the resources are available for the missions. Those are the best barrels of oil sold in this country”.
Elections are Sunday and campaigns came to a close on Thursday night. The pro-Chavez PSUV party was seen, heard and felt nationwide, while the opposition MUD campaign seemed invisible.
From east to west, Venezuela was a sea of red shirts, smiling faces and upbeat campaign songs with tropical sounds as President Hugo Chavez caravaned across the nation this week in support of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidates for this Sunday’s legislative elections.
With what seemed like tireless energy, Venezuela’s head of state appeared almost daily in two to three caravans surrounded by thousands of supporters in different cities and regions around the country.
On Sunday, President Chavez led caravans throughout the Andes Mountains in Merida, a state primarily comprised of small-scale farmers and workers. Floods of residents in Merida’s Paramo mountainsides cheered the Venezuelan leader on, sporting red shirts and pledging to vote PSUV on Sunday.
Later that afternoon, Chavez inaugurated a state-sponsored supermarket, Supermercal in the city of Merida, slated to benefit hundreds of local residents with 120 tons of diverse products available at low prices daily. The store is part of the Mercal program that seeks to combat price hikes and speculation perpetuated by privately owned markets in Venezuela.
NO ROLL-BACK ON HOUSING FOR POOR
On Monday, President Chavez caravaned throughout western Merida in El Vigia and ended in the state of Tachira, which borders Colombia and is governed by an extremist opposition leader, Cesar Perez Vivas. During caravans and events in San Cristobal’s Tachira’s capital, on Tuesday morning, the Venezuelan head of state issued a presidencial decree protecting the rights of residents in housing units built and subsidized by the previous governor, a Chavez ally.
Perez Vivas, member of the COPEI party that alternated power throughout the latter half of the twentieth century and excluded a majority of Venezuelans from politics, had told residents of the housing units subsidized by the state that they would have to move out or pay higher interest rates and monthly quotas.
“Now this governor comes along and wants to remove these poor people from their homes. They want to charge them high interest rates and quotas they can’t afford, in order to get them out”, denounced Chavez.
The houses were built during the local government of Ronald Blanco La Cruz, in power from 2004-2008. “You all should know what is happening here in Tachira with these homes that Ronald Blanco La Cruz built, and that this friend of Tachira, this soldier Hugo Chavez, gave him the resources for”.
“No one will have to leave their homes because I’m signing a decree placing them under the jurisdiction of the national government. Those homes are for those families in Tachira who need them, they are not for profit”, declared Chavez.
“Imagine if an opposition leader was in the presidency again. This is what they would do to the people. They would take away everything the Revolution has done and given. These are not gifts, they are rights; the right to live with dignity”, he affirmed.
FROM WEST TO EAST
After his extensive campaigning in the western states, Chavez crossed the nation to Anzoategui, an eastern state bordering the Caribbean Sea. He led caravans in Barcelona and Puerto la Cruz, the capital regions of the oil producing state, filling the streets with tens of thousands of supporters. Television images showed seas of red with no end in sight.
On Wednesday, the Venezuelan President spearheaded a massive caravan in western Caracas that brought thousands of metropolitan residents into the streets in the early morning hours to express their support for PSUV candidates and the party leader, President Chavez.
Later in the afternoon, he presided another caravan in neighboring Aragua state, again, flanked by thousands of red-clad supporters. On Thursday, the Venezuelan President led caravans in the states of Lara and Carabobo, while in Caracas, each PSUV candidate caravaned throughout the city, ending together at a free concert in the center of Caracas to bring the end of a month-long, extremely intense campaign to a close.
“No one else has the capacity, energy and magnetism to bring out tens of thousands of supporters into the streets in every city and state across the country, except President Chavez”, declared Tania Diaz, PSUV candidate in Caracas, during an interview on Wednesday.
“The opposition has no leadership, their campaign was practically invisible”, she added.
Opposition political parties, grouped in a coalition called “Democratic Unity” or “MUD” in Spanish, led a fairly modest, low-key campaign. Most of their campaign activities were media-oriented, with virtual audiencies and highly crafted propaganda. Although they announced several caravans in Caracas, there was no visible presence of opposition supporters out in the streets demonstrating support for their candidates this week.
Mainly, the MUD campaign focused on television interviews and spots, along with lots of tweeting and blogging.
During the final days before the elections, MUD candidates, such as Maria Corina Machado, founder of a US-funded group, Sumate, began openly questioning the legitimacy of the electoral system. Machado led the calls to boycott the last legislative elections in 2005, claiming the electoral process was not “guaranteed” or credible. Machado’s group Sumate was founded with USAID and National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funds and aid in 2003 to lead a recall referendum campaign against President Chavez. After Chavez won the referendum with a victorious 60-40 vote, Sumate cried fraud.
Machado has said publicly she will participate in this year’s elections, despite her concerns about the electoral system’s “credibility”, leaving open the possibility that if results are not in her favor, she could again claim fraud.
Other candidates, such as Henry Ramos Allup from Accion Democratica (AD), also a member of MUD, have stated they will recognize the electoral results, “so long as there is no fraud”.
¨If there is fraud, we will cry fraud. If there is no fraud, we won’t cry fraud”, declared Ramos Allup during an interview Tuesday broadcast on Telesur.
This posturing has led many PSUV candidates to wonder if “fraud” occurs when opposition candidates lose, while “no fraud” is only if they win.
The Venezuelan electoral system is one of the most lauded and acclaimed worldwide. It’s known for its solid transparency and credibility, and has been recognized internationally by the Carter Center, the European Union, United Nations and Organization of American States.
This year, 150 international observers will witness the electoral process, along with 60 foreign political party members.
Venezuela has used electronic elections machines since 2004 that enable rapid, fraud-proof voting. The Venezuelan elections machines produce a paper ballot, which is check by the voter and deposited into a secure box, providing a double protection against any kind of voter manipulation.