CARACAS – As soon as he heard the news of the opposition winning a majority in Venezuela’s National Assembly on Sunday night, Caracas businessman Carlos Martel drove to the headquarters of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition coalition to join the joyous celebrations on the street.
He was not just another one in the crowd. More than two decades ago, as a journalism student, he helped a young lieutenant colonel become a local celebrity first, a successful politician later, when he – accidentally, he claims – shot footage of Hugo Chavez’s 1992 failed coup d’etat.
But literally overnight, Martel and some eight million Venezuelans helped bury “Chavismo,” the socialist movement that has dominated Venezuelan politics in the last 17 years. On Monday afternoon, MUD informed that the opposition coalition achieved a supermajority (112 out of 167 seats) and with it the power to reform laws and possibly overthrow Chavez’s handpicked successor, President Nicolas Maduro.
As Martel back-slapped and high-fived other revelers, a man called him out. “I thought you were a Chavista!” the man said half-jokingly, and then another quipped: “Well, let’s just say he is neutral now.” And the party continued.
But it was more of a funeral in the state of Barinas, where Chávez was born some 60 years ago. Here Chavismo lost big time, with the opposition taking all of the congressional seats up for grabs. Even Chavez’s older brother, Argenis, lost.
“In terms of popular vote, we beat Chavismo by more than two million votes nationwide,” said congressman–elect Enrique Marquez, an engineer from the oil-rich state of Zulia.
“We managed to conquer the most unfair election ever, against mountains of money, against the power of the petro state,” said Freddy Guevara, a newly elected lawmaker for east Caracas.
On the wee hours of Monday, when conceding defeat, President Maduro wept openly and asked for “understanding” from the victors – another first in Venezuelan politics.
"I can say today that the economic war has triumphed," Maduro said, surrounded by his party's top leadership.
In eight of Venezuela’s 23 states the opposition won every single slot available, as well as in longtime Chavista bastions of Aragua, Anzoategui, Barinas and Vargas.
The MUD victory caught a lot of people off-guard, including the MUD itself. Last week, opposition leader Julio Borges said he expected the coalition to elect between 90 to 100 lawmakers, just a couple of seats shy of the 84-seat simple majority.
Another big surprise was the election of Venezuela’s first transgender lawmaker, Tamara Adrian, whose win was considered a long shot even by those close to her.
After Adrian was done talking to reporters outside the MUD headquarters Sunday night, not far from where Martel and others were celebrating, a woman hugged her, looked her in the eye and said, “Diversity won.”
Carlos Camacho is a freelance writer based in Caracas. You can follow him @carloselpana.