Carlos Ponce: Venezuela Election – Hope is in the Air

The impossible challenge for the Venezuelans to built a “Unitarian” opposition to Mr. Hugo Chávez  it is not an utopian goal anymore. The totalitarian and authoritarian regime from Mr. Chávez finally has a young and active contender. More than 3 million votes in an opposition primary for the Democratic United Table (Mesa de Unidad Democracica) mean more than just numbers.

The challenge of organizing an effort to unify an opposition with hundreds of micro political parties and individual leaderships, an opposition that failed in the past with divisive approaches, was more than a success. The courage of Venezuelans voting in a election that will openly mark them as opposition, more in a country in which the government persecute the opposition, or the democratic showroom of people with courage it just inspirational.

In France, only 2 million people voted a recent Socialist Party primary in a country with more than 45 million people. The tendency in all the primaries is always less than 10 percent of the votes. In Venezuela, it was more than 16 percent. But Chávez has been manipulating the electoral register numbers from 6 million voters in 1999 when he began his dictatorship to more than 17 million in only 13 years.

In just two years in power, he changed the electoral database from 6 to 12 million, which is impossible. The last census numbers don’t match with the electoral database. Chávez controls all the institutions, including the electoral one, and has been wasting more than $1 billion in 13 years, so he is more than a typical president.

Chávez has been losing two elections in the road. The last one, he just changed the rules of distribution of electoral circuits one month before the election to avoid losing the parliament, but he lost the electoral vote.

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Chávez portrayed himself 20 years ago in his coup d’eta as an alternative to corruption and the past. Now Chávez represent the past in more than 13 years of corruption and destruction.

If we review the numbers from the last parliamentary/Congress election, the opposition defeated Chávez , and they obtained 6 million votes, now in a primary they got more than 3 million, which means that they obtained more than half of their electoral votes in a primary. If we do the math we are talking of more than 6 million voters against Chávez in a real electoral base of 11 million.

I had the opportunity to coordinate an international observer’s mission yesterday in the Venezuelan Primaries with observers from Colombia, Costa Rica, Spain, Nicaragua and the US, and for the first time we can say that this was the first free election in Venezuela in the last  12 years. Our mission, Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, focused its effort in the most dangerous “CHavistas” neighborhood voting centers in Catia, 23 de Enero, Petare, El Valle and La Pastora, and we saw the beginning of the end of Chávez. People voted, even with open treats against their integrity and their jobs. People voted with hope and defeated fear.

The joint picture of six contenders in an election, that even with their differences decided to join forces with the winner, the same day of the election, it is a good one. The winner, Henrique Capriles, a young leader of only 40 years old, called to a united opposition with all the forces, and a country for all the people without colors or ideologies. New leaderships came to Venezuela, new generations against the same old Chávez.

Of course, the road ahead is not easy, with Chávez sick of power and controlling all the institutions, the fight will be an unbalanced one.

The Venezuelans need to keep the unity alive. They also need to build trust in the population in the possibility of a better future without Chávez, and the need for a change. Chávez will be using the money and power of being the last autocratic dinosaur in the region against Henrique Capriles and the united opposition. They will need to fight against the manipulation of the electoral database, the control of the electoral authority in the hand of Chávez and the violent contender. Millions of dollars and ultimate power in one hand trying to defeat the hope of a country trying get rid of the autocrat.

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The US and the international communities can play a fundamental role putting pressure on Chávez to accept international observers in the October 07 presidential election. But it is not only the need for electoral observers; they need well-prepared and technical observers to travel to Venezuela in advance of the election to monitor the entire electoral process. They need to have as heads of international electoral missions former head of states like former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso or Nobel Prize winner and former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. They need a mission from the Organization of American States with real electoral technical teams, not the friends of the OAS Secretary General, Jose Miguel Insulza. The only possibility of an OAS electoral mission for Venezuela to be successful is to be independent from the manipulation of Insulza, and it needs a former head of state as chief of the mission. A mission like that will be able to support the negotiation effort if Chávez lost the presidential election as well as effectively monitor election fraud.

The US must avoid wasting U.S. taxpayer money funding another electoral mission with the inefficient and weak friends of Insulza, missions that only served to validate electoral fraud in the past. We need to have an open eye in Venezuela because Chávez has been proving that he is not democratic and he will be trying to persecute and terrorize the opposition as well as his followers to prevent losing power. It is time for true solidarity against the autocrats.

The bad news for Chávez is that he represents the past, an inefficient one, and now his people have a face in the other side to negotiate “golden bridges” to save themselves when the time came. Anyone in Chávez's structure now has a face to negotiate how to have a better country without Chávez.

If Capriles and his team, former candidates and the heads of the “Democratic United Table”, including its head Dr. Ramon Guillermo Aveledo or its international coordinator Dr. Ramon Jose Medina, keep their agenda, innovate, promise a country for all and overcome the challenges from Mr. Chávez, we can say that hope is in the air for Venezuelans, as well as for Cubans, Nicaraguans and Ecuadorians. Maybe we will see a “Latin American Spring” soon.

Dr. Carlos Ponce is the elected general coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, co-editor of the political magazine “Nueva Politica” and member of the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy and the ISC of the Community of Democracies. Twitter: @ceponces

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