University reacts to Venezuelan election results

Barbara Corbellini-Duarte and Melhor Leonor/ FIUSM Staff

The absence of a Venezuelan Consulate in Miami did not stop people from voting in the Venezuelan presidential election on Sunday, Oct. 7.

Maria Alejandra Sanchez, a University alum, volunteered in one of the buses that took Venezuelans to the Venezuelan Consulate in New Orleans to cast their votes.

“New Orleans was packed with people wearing their Venezuelan flag hats and their ‘I voted’ sticker. It was incredible,” Sanchez said.

South Florida Venezuelans had to travel to cast ballots following Chávez’s decision this year to close the Miami Consulate. The decision was made after the U.S. government expelled the standing consul for “behavior incompatible with her status,” according to the Department of State during a press briefing in January.

Natalia Sanchez, a junior and hospitality major, was on the same bus as Maria Alejandra Sanchez. She travelled 870 miles so she could vote for Henrique Capriles.

“We all came together united because of one reason and one reason only — we are all Venezuelans,” Natalia Sanchez said.

She was confident that Capriles would win, but President Hugo Chávez, who led the country for more than 14 years, won re-election for another 6 years with 54.42 percent of the votes, according to the National Election Council of Venezuela.

According to Eduardo Gamarra, professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations, there were several reasons for this outcome.

“In the end, why people voted for him is largely because he conveyed to them the fear that if he were not re-elected all these benefits that they receive would be taken away,” Gamarra said, alluding to the government missions that go into remote towns to teach people how to read and write and that provide medical care.

Gamarra also mentioned that the largest supplier of jobs in Venezuela is the government.

“If [Chavez loses] the election, people might fear that they will lose their jobs,” Gamarra said.

In regards to fraud, Gamarra said that “there was no fraud in the traditional sense.”

“How did they rig the entire process? They control the means of communication; how information goes out. Whereas the opposition had three minutes a day of television time, Chavez could speak infinitely on television,” he said.

“He controls the electoral courts,” Gamarra said. “They were also extraordinarily intimidating of the opposition. When I say there was no fraud in the traditional sense, it’s because there didn’t need to be.”

Carla Parada graduated from the University in 2011 and went back to Venezuela to live in Barquisimeto. She worked for the Capriles campaign and believes that the lack of education is one of the reasons why Chávez was re-elected.

“As he says in his speeches, he is the president of the poor and tonight that was shown,” Parada said. “But poor of soul, that are willing to sell the future of their kids for some money.”

She went to vote on Sunday at 6 a.m. to find people standing in a line about 10 blocks in length. She waited six hours in the rain to be able to vote.

“I can’t help it to have tears in my eyes watching what is going on tonight, looking at the faces of hundreds of young people crying because they just feel hopeless, that no matter what they do, they can’t change the course of this country,” Parada said.

Natalia Sanchez does not understand why people support Chávez.

“He caused Venezuela a great deal of pain. He broke Venezuela from the inside out and he just damaged our image. He damaged us as a people,” Natalia Sanchez said.

Maria Alejandra Sanchez shared a similar opinion. She believes Chávez has divided the Venezuelan people.

“People are now either for or against Chávez,” Maria Alejandra Sanchez said.

She said she is sad to see people wearing red as a symbol of Chávez support or the Venezuelan flag colors to represent being against the president.

“Even if we’re Venezuelans, brothers or sisters, we are separated by a political threat,” Maria Alejandra Sanchez said. “He creates turmoil against people who don’t agree with him and this is never good. You should never put the people against each other.”

Parada experienced the division in the country in the streets of Barquisimeto on the Sunday night, Oct. 7, after the results were released.

“Because many people had hope of a change, the waters were calmer, but now that clearly the population is divided in half, tolerance will be lost. Tonight I can’t hear nothing, there is not celebrating from either side,” Parada said. “Because both sides know as a fact that the coming years won’t be any good.”

Even though Alejandra Sanchez was disappointed with the results, she believes the people in Miami are an example.

“We went through so many miles, so many different states so that we can have our vote count, but I think is more than that,” Alejandra Sanchez said.

Gamarra said this election was “a very significant moment.”

“It was the first time that the opposition unified itself around a single candidate. The first time the opposition appeared to have a real chance. That’s one of the reasons why our students here were so enthusiastic about going to New Orleans. Because they genuinely thought that for the first time they would have a positive outcome.”


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