The people of Venezuela went to the polls in record-breaking numbers Aug. 15 and voted by a 58 percent majority against the recall of their president, Hugo Chávez.
With several hundred thousand votes yet to be counted, Chávez had already garnered 8.5 million votes of the nation’s 14 million registered voters. Prensa Latina, the Havana-based news service, reported that voters swamped the nation’s polling places, waiting as long as nine hours to cast their ballots. “From the early hours of Sunday morning, Venezuelans began to line up outside the 8,469 polling stations set up throughout the country,” Prensa Latina reported — a turnout so vast that polling places were kept open past midnight Monday morning to accommodate the voters.
“The Venezuelan people have spoken and the people’s voice is the voice of God,” Chávez said in a victory speech from the porch of the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas. In a conciliatory gesture to the opposition he added, “This is a victory for the opposition. They defeated violence, coup-mongering and fascism. I hope they accept this as a victory and not a defeat.”
The results stunned the opposition because pre-election polls had forecast a close election and they had predicted victory in their drive to oust Chávez. But as returns from the nation’s electronic voting machines poured in, the so-called “quick count” made Chávez’ victory clear. The five member Electoral Council, known by its Spanish initials CNE, then announced his victory with the two opposition members of the council dissenting. The results were also certified by the Carter Center, the Organization of American States, and European parliamentarians who monitored the elections. Also present were observers from Brazil and Argentina to help prevent the stealing of the election.
“All Venezuelans should accept the results of the CNE unless there is tangible proof that the reports are incorrect,” said former President Jimmy Carter, who had led the team from the Atlanta-based center named for him. Carter told reporters that the two opposition members of the CNE were “extremely irate” at the results. “Their faces were white and they were very condemnatory of our lack of objectivity and fairness,” Carter said.
Leaders of the Christian Democrat and Democratic Action parties immediately denounced the results as a “gigantic fraud.” Yet the vote was an enormous, historic victory for democracy in Latin America and an equally huge rebuff to Venezuela’s wealthy elite and their Bush administration backers who have waged an open and covert war to overthrow Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution.
The wealthy elite failed in their clumsy CIA-backed coup in April 2002 when the working-class masses rose up to demand the return of Chávez, Venezuela’s democratically elected chief of state. Chávez survived an attempt by a Colombian paramilitary death squad to assassinate him in May of this year.
The opposition, led by the lighter-skinned captains of industry and commerce of European ancestry, are widely referred to as “the oligarchs.” They staged phony “strikes” to shut down the nation’s oil industry. The corporate media unleashed a campaign of slander aimed at destabilizing the country reminiscent of El Mercurio, the fascist newspaper that fomented the coup that murdered President Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973. Foiled in all these attempts to remove Chávez, the opposition counted on the recall referendum as their latest ploy. But it, too, backfired.
Ironically, the price of crude oil dropped after Chávez’ victory. Chávez vows to continue his drive to lift the standard of living of the impoverished masses of Venezuela through land reform and the allocation of a sharply increased share of oil revenues for health care, public education, and housing. Oil prices that have surged in recent months, enabled Chávez and the Congress to pour $1.7 billion more into these programs.
Greg Palast, correspondent in Caracas for the Guardian and BBC, hailed the August 15 vote as a victory for Venezuela’s majority “negro e indio” (Black and Indian).
“Chávez sits atop a reserve of crude that rival’s Iraq’s,” Palast writes, pointing out that the president pushed through a new “Law of Hydrocarbons” doubling the share of oil revenues returned to Venezuela from 15 percent to 30 percent with “Big Oil” receiving “only” 70 percent. “So began the Bush-Cheney campaign to ‘Floridate’ the will of the Venezuela electorate,” Palast continues. “But today the landless and homeless voted their hopes…against the armed axis of oligarchs and Dick Cheney.”
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