Carlos Seijas Meneses
Caracas, Dec 3 (EFE) – The insistent call by the Venezuelan authorities for “massive participation” in Sunday’s non-binding referendum in defense of Essequibo, a territory of almost 160,000 square kilometers in dispute with Guyana, received a weak response, as evidenced by the low turnout at the polls.
At 3:00 pm, few hours before the centers were scheduled to close, less than 12% of voters had gone to the three centers located in different areas of Caracas, according to polling station coordinators interviewed by EFE.
At a voting center in the Chavista municipality of Libertador, 325 of 2,881 registered people had voted, only 11.28%.
The place was almost empty, with only one person in one of the three tables set up, a scene far removed from the festive atmosphere that the government expected.
The consultation, which included a broad and intense government campaign that lasted almost a month, included five questions.
The first four were about the acceptance or rejection of international treaties and tribunals to settle the border issue with Guyana, and the fifth was about the agreement to annex the territory, the creation of a state called Guayana Esequiba, and the “accelerated plan” to grant citizenship to the local population.
The referendum, in which nearly 20.7 million citizens were eligible to vote, was supported by more than 780,000 organizations, according to the electoral authorities.
During the campaign, the plebiscite was presented by the government of Nicolás Maduro as a “unique opportunity” to strengthen the defense of the mineral-rich border region. However, it was not met with the same enthusiasm among ordinary citizens.
For example, Willy Morales, a 29-year-old young man passing by the voting center, decided to abstain because he did not feel interested.
“At the end of the day, whether (Essequibo) is ours or not, will basically benefit the government, because it is the one that will bring up the minerals to use them in its favor, but the people will not benefit,” Morales told EFE.
Caracas, accustomed to chaos and traffic jams, was quiet on Sunday, and many streets were empty.
In another ideologically opposed area of the capital, three hours before the scheduled closing time, 300 people had voted, out of 4,139 registered, only 7.24%, the voting coordinator told EFE.
Nearby walked Jesús Bastidas, a 41-year-old independent worker who decided “not to waste time” participating in an “unnecessary” referendum that seemed to him “basically a false election.”
“There are more important things to take care of right now, such as hospitals that are falling down and schools hat are no longer useful,” Bastidas added.
“(The consultation) is not even useful to make noise, because the people do not care, the majority does not care, and those who vote (do so) to secure their national bonds (government handouts) or their boxes (of subsidized food) CLAP,” he assured EFE.
EFE also confirmed the low turnout at the polling stations in Maracaibo, capital of the state of Zulia (northwest, bordering Colombia).
On the eve of the consultation, President Nicolas Maduro assured that “there will be justice” for the “dispossession” of Essequibo only “if there is a united voice of the people” on Sunday.