Social and political distancing on legislative election day in Venezuela

By Gonzalo Dominguez Loeda

Caracas, Dec 6 (efe-epa).- Few people turning out, with enough distance in between them to inhibit the transmission of the coronavirus, and an environment of skepticism, if not outright rejection of politics: those are the keynotes in Venezuela’s legislative elections on Sunday, a day that seems little different from any other weekend day in Caracas.

The Venezuelan capital awoke sleepily, with lines in front of the markets and at just a few of the polling places where, in contrast to other elections, Venezuelans don’t seem to be turning out to participate in the vote to renew the National Assembly (AN).

“I’ve seen all this before (in terms of politics) that it doesn’t get anyone’s attention, neither the opposition or the government,” Rafael Allen told EFE.

Allen spoke near a street market next to a polling place located in the Jesus Obrero university institute in the densely populated “favela” (shantytown) of Petare, said to be Venezuela’s largest slum.

While other locals bought fruit from the market stalls, almost nobody could be seen at the polling place casting ballots.

“There are longer lines to get gasoline than to vote. Look at the polling place,” said Allen, pointing to the practically deserted precinct.

At the other extreme, in the also heavily populated Catia neighborhood, stands the Manuel Palacio Fajardo educational center. Few are familiar with that name, but almost everyone in Venezuela knows that it’s located in the 23 de Enero sector, recalling that it was the precinct where deceased President Hugo Chavez voted.

There, beneath the image of the founder of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, about 500 people, out of the 3,380 registered voters in the district, had voted by noon, according to what precinct managers told EFE.

However, that has not discouraged people.

“The people are coming in gradually. There’s no line right now, but later on perhaps people will keep on coming. It’s the month of Christmas, perhaps people are at church or cooking, but people are getting out little by little. That’s the most important thing,” local resident Oscar Martinez said.

Martinez added that he hopes the next AN will work “for all Venezuelans, without any political restriction, whoever wins (the election), whether it’s the opposition or the government.”

Behind him, the ever-present Milicia, a group of armed and uniformed civilians supporting Chavism – the country’s prevailing political ideology, despite Chavez’s passing in 2013 – are standing watch at the entrance of the site to make sure nobody gets in without first rinsing their hands with rubbing alcohol.

At the second entrance, a woman with protective gear on and surgical gloves is sprinkling the voters a second time with more alcohol.

The opposition headed by Juan Guaido – a lawmaker and AN president until new legislators come into office on Jan. 5 – is boycotting this election, as are other big names among those who oppose Chavez’s protoge, President Nicolas Maduro.

The main opposition parties were significantly affected by the Supreme Court in a controversial decision that stripped the parties of their leadership, leaders who had been chosen by party activists.

In exchange, old members were placed at the head of the parties, members who had been expelled from those organizations and accused of corruption by their former colleagues. Much more docile, politically speaking, these leaders did decide to participate in the election.

Thus, the big parties, with their logos, names, symbols and colors, are on the virtual ballot and anyone who wants to can vote for them, although some reports are that only about 3 percent of opposition voters are turning out.

On the other hand, the people who have mobilized for the vote are neighborhood leaders, called “street bosses,” organized by the government who are tasked with distributing food under Maduro’s CLAP food program.

One of them is Nelida Presilla, who came to the Doctor Jose de Jesus Arocha school in Petare, a precinct where there are 7,150 registered voters.

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