Home | About Us | Archive | Documents | Campaigns & Issues | Links | Contact Us

      This Is What Democracy Looks Like!
      Revolutionary Journal of Fire This Time Eyewitnesses to the May 20, 2018 Elections in Venezuela

      By Alison Bodine, Thomas Davies & Mike Larson

      From May 18-22, 2018 Fire This Time was invited to participate in the International Observers Delegation to the Venezuela election. We spent four days in Venezuela learning about and experiencing the dynamics of a living and breathing socialist experiment and a historic election. Below is a journal of our initial reflections and observations that we had while in Venezuela. For more, including video reports, photos and interviews direct from Venezuela visit our website “Venezuela: This is What Democracy Looks Like” at firethistimevenezuela2018. tumblr.com

      Day 1 - May 18

      The day we left from Venezuela the Financial Post newspaper had an article admitting that Maduro would win this Presidential election, but that “regime change” probably wasn’t far away, and that was a good thing. The US customs official eyed us up and didn’t seem to believe we were travelling there at this time. “Hope you come back.”

      All this reinforced why we needed to come here. So few people from Canada have visited Venezuela, and the media campaign is so persistent that a variety of outlandish stories are now more or less accepted. Otherwise critical minds seem to believe everything they are told.

      Now that we’ve been here for a day we can confirm that Caracas is not the burning hellhole of “socialist mismanagement” we’re told about. Surrounded by steep hills on all sides, it buzzes with activity. The lights are on, hot water comes out of the taps, and there is an election about to happen.

      The drive from the airport looked much the same as two months ago when Fire This Time Movement for Social Justice also participated in the delegation to the “TodosSomosVenezuela” conference. Except, this time we arrived in the afternoon - so the billboards and road stops painted in the colours of the Venezuelan flag were much more visible.

      We passed brightly and beautifully coloured houses, and apartments, and flew right over a Mission Vivienda (the housing mission of the revolutionary government) complex when we landed - hundreds of homes that will be given to poor and working Venezuelans for free. Just imagine if we could have given the free houses and apartments to poor and low-income residents of the Downtown East Side of Vancouver or the growing number of homeless people in Surrey.

      This will be Venezuela’s 24th electoral action in 19 years. There are four presidential candidates and 16 political parties participating. We are here, with more than 300 observers from around the world, to take it all in. We have a lot to learn, and an important task of reporting truthfully about the reality of this society and its election. Very exciting!

      Day 2 - May 19

      Early in the morning, driving through the steep streets of the city there were fruit, eggs, meat, coffee and car parts on sale in many little storefronts. There was election graffiti stenciled on a lot of public walls, and large public art dotting the different neighborhoods.

      Early in the morning, driving through the steep streets of the city there were fruit, eggs, meat, coffee and car parts on sale in many little storefronts. There was election graffiti stenciled on a lot of public walls, and large public art dotting the different neighborhoods.

      The city of Caracas is surrounded by the state of Miranda, “like a donut” as a Venezuela community organizer explained on the bus. Soon, we were in the Sucre Municipality in Miranda looking down at Caracas - in front of a large building with lined with colourful blue loading bays, surrounded by a high fence. This is on of the buildings of the National Electoral Council (CNE). In this building the electronic voting machines are tested and verified - over 34,000 of them.

      Talking to the CNE staff you could really feel the pride Venezuelans have in their voting system, as they describe in great detail the various procedures and answer the many questions we had about voting in Venezuela. I have never heard someone explain hardware as enthusiastically as the technician that described to us the inner workings of the voting machines.

      The same electronic voting machines are used in every area of the country - including the most rural areas. Where there is no network connection, the results from the machines can be uploaded using a telephone signal; where there is no telephone signal, the results can be saved on an external device and uploaded from a networked area. On election day, 53% of the electronic reports throughout the country are audited against the paper copies of the vote, that are deposited by the voter in a ballot box. If requested by any of the participants in the election, there will be an 100% audit carried out.

      It was incredible to be able to observe the verifications of the machines - and more so to imagine the millions of Venezuelans that will voting using these machines tomorrow.

      Here the vote will be universal, free, direct and secret, and to think that this is what the government of Canada refers to as an “illegitimate” election.

      In the afternoon and evening, we had the opportunity to hear presentations that set the context for the vote happening tomorrow. The first was by a representative from the CNE in charge of voting centres in Caracas. She explained about the origins of the voting system in Venezuela today, starting from the passing of the 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian revolution, which established the five independent branches of Venezuela’s government - the executive, the legislative, the judicial, the citizens, and the electoral - the CNE.

      As part of her presentation, she displayed photos of the rightwing violence that took place only 8 months ago, during the election of the National Constituent Assembly. During this election, counterrevolutionary mercenaries threw grenades at the offices of the CNE, forced the closure of voting centres, and destroyed ballot boxes and over 200 voting machines. No one that I have spoken to since we arrived is expecting this level of violence from the U.S.-backed opposition - but Venezuela is prepared, and the rights of the Venezuelan people to vote without fear of right-wing violence will be protected tomorrow.

      We learned more in depth about the incredible amount of controls, verifications and observations that are built into Venezuela’s electoral system. This “dictatorship” has developed the most secure voting process in the world.

      As we got ready to go to bed, television ads were constantly encouraging people to vote and explaining the simple process. A speech from Comandante Chavez, the former President of Venezuela and the leader of the Bolivarian revolution, who passed away in 2013, was also shown on the TeleSUR television station. In this speech Chavez called on the people of Venezuela, workers, students, women, intellectuals, soldiers, technicians, unions to unite in defense of the sovereignty and self-determination of Venezuela. These words are just as true today as they were then.

      Election day! Day 3 - May 20

      As we entered the Libertador municipality of Caracas, there was a sound of a trumpet, and soon after we pulled up to a voting centre. We had arrived at the Miguel Antonio Caro school - just moments after the first vote in the country had been cast, that of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

      There was a drone flying overhead, filming the lines of people forming along the sidewalk. Others patiently waited in chairs decorated with a bright red fabric. Further into the voting centre, people sat on long benches before they could enter their assigned voting station. No one looked impatient, or worried, and most were chatting with their neighbour.

      After observing this voting centre our bus headed to the well-known workingclass neighborhood of 23 de Enero (23rd of January), this name was given to this neighborhood in 1958 to commemorate the overthrow of Venezuelan dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were surrounded by many revolutionary murals. These walls had images of former President Hugo Chavez, Che Guevara and art in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Not to mention that they were playing Hasta Siempre, a song dedicated to Che Guevara, on loud speakers at the entrance to the community. Just walking through the neighbourhood alone gave you the feeling that this community was not just focused on their own projects but felt connected to the various struggles throughout the world.

      In 23 de Enero there were several voting centres for the block of apartments. We were struck by how calm everything was. It was before 6:30am and already there were orderly lines at the voting centre. As we walked by the line, we were greeted by many friendly Venezuelans, they wanted us to see their ID cards that guarantees them their right to vote and encouraged us to take photos of them.

      As we entered the building used as the electoral centre, a community electoral official informed us that we were going to have the opportunity to see the voting process first hand. But first, she wanted to explain to us how important it was that they made sure each member of the c ommu n i t y had a chance to vote. She also told us that members of the community would even go door to door throughout the day to encourage everyone to vote.

      While in 23 de Enero, we also visited a voting center in what turned out to be President Maduro’s old high school. There were really big crowds out front, and a large shaded waiting area inside. There was right wing and public TV stations present.

      Throughout the morning, we walked through several voting centers and the air of calm and efficiency was the same everywhere we went. Even some of the international delegates who had been skeptical of the voting process beforehand were talking about how impressed they were. The next voting centre we visited was on an armed forces base, one which is used by both service members and their families. Before Comandante Chavez, members of the military were forbidden from voting. Now they wait their turn in line and can vote like everybody else.

      Again, it was very peaceful in the voting areas. People seemed mostly shy to speak with us, but one woman stopped us to say that Venezuela isn’t like what we were seeing on TV and she was here to defend her rights and her country.

      The observation mission continued at a large hospital, where patients, doctors, nurses and the surrounding community could vote. It seemed like a great idea to bring the voting directly to the hospital if patients can’t leave. Here, we had the opportunity to interview Kaguer Brazon, a 19-year-old voting for his first time. He was impressed by how calm the day had been, and it was clear that he felt relaxed and wellprepared for the entire process.

      For the afternoon we left the city of Caracas for the State of Vargas to the north, to the social housing complex Urbanismo Hugo Chavez. Visiting the voting centre at Urbanismo Hugo Chavez was an amazing experience. More then observing the election, while in the community we were able to see how Venezuelans are organising to solve everyday problems with a government equally committed to finding these solutions.

      The voting centre we visited at the Urbanismo Hugo Chavez is set-up in a community building that lies in the centre of the apartment buildings. As with the previous voting centres, people were waiting patiently to vote, sitting under large white tents that have been set-up outside. Here there was also music playing, and a strong atmosphere of celebration and community.

      Lola, a leader from the community council, and organizer for the election, explained that the social housing complex community started out as a response to a natural disaster that left many Venezuelan families homeless. The government’s response was to start an ambitious project to not just rebuild the lost homes but to include the necessary infrastructure to provide everything needed to meet the social needs of those living in the community. This included a health clinic, market, police station and recreational zones for youth to play sports.

      Throughout election day, our team had visited five different voting locations and seen many more in our travels. We have no hesitation in saying we saw a process which was well organized, inclusive and comprehensive in terms of checks and balances. It was just as interesting to drive through Caracas and see pockets of people and voting lineups taking place without fanfare all over the city.

      Within three hours, we arrived at the headquarters of the National Electoral Council. We entered a large tent where the press conference announcing the elections results would be taking place. There were dozens of television cameras set-up at the back off the room, including one for CNN.

      Mass capitalist media such as CNN had already declared today’s election to be “illegitimate,” - so it makes you wonder why they even bother to show up for an announcement of the results.

      The official announcement came around 10:30pm, when just over 92% of the votes had been reported. Maduro had won the election! Over 5.8 million people voted to continue the Bolivarian revolutionary process in Venezuela and maintain their independence and sovereignty and we have been witness to it! President Maduro, the United Socialist Party (PSUV) and supporters of the Bolivarian revolutionary process won another clear six year mandate to confront the challenges they face.

      President Maduro had clearly won, as he had received over 4 million more votes then the next opposition candidate behind him Henri Falcon. However, it seemed that Falcon already knew what the results would be, because earlier in the day he had announced that he wouldn’t be accepting the results of the election.

      We could hear fireworks going off following the announcement of Maduro’s victory, and we were able to see massive celebrations happening around the country on Venezuelan TV. We were sure the international press would show none of these.

      What has been increasingly obvious this entire trip is that what the corporate mainstream media, including in Canada, is saying about the Venezuelan election is deliberately distorted. There are many challenges here, but nothing like the crisis we are told is here.

      There is mass participation in the political process and continued support for the revolutionary government. Venezuela has a challenging road ahead in building its Socialist future, but this election was a very important step forward. We feel fortunate to have witnessed it for ourselves.

      Day 4 - May 21

      Monday morning in Caracas was business as usual with Venezuelans returning to daily life after weeks of preparation, campaigning, voting and celebrating the re-election of President Nicolas Maduro. The traffic sounds were the loudest they have been, and commuters were streaming into tall buildings and sipping coffee at sidewalk stalls.

      For a place that is supposed to not have anything on the store shelves… there sure was a lot of things on the store shelves. There’s no denying there are challenges here, but people are living their lives and what’s happening is nothing even remotely resembling the supposed widespread starvation and desperation we are told there is.

      The driving skills of our bus drivers were on full display as we weaved our way though traffic up to the Cuartel de las Montañas (the mountain barracks). Today, these barracks have become the final resting place of Comandante Hugo Chavez and home to El Museo Histórico Militar de Caracas (The Historical Military Museum of Caracas).

      The first thing we saw at the front gates of the base was a large pedestal with a big flame, this was the eternal flame that was lit to commemorate Chavez’s legacy after he passed away. Behind the flame was a large 4F which has a huge significance in Venezuelan history. 4F means 4th of February when the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 led by Hugo Chavez in 1992 had attempted take power to dispose of a corrupt government. Although it failed, Chavez took responsibly and this made him a well-known figure in Venezuela and later helped him launch his victorious presidential campaign.

      Once inside the Barracks complex, you had to walk through a corridor of flag polls with a flag from each country in Latin America, and at the end we were greeted by our tour guide. He was a Venezuelan militia member who enthusiastically explained the history of the Barracks.

      We had an opportunity to pay respects to Chavez and hear the voices of the changing of the guard ring off the tall walls, Dignidad! Unidad! Lucha! (Dignity! Unity! Struggle!) It was very moving, and we couldn’t help but feel his presence as we made our way around the tomb in the center of the room.

      We spent the afternoon at the Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Relations (MPPRE), participating in an elections assessment meeting with William Castillo, the Vice Minister of International Communication with the MPPRE, Edwin Diaz, Secretary of the Vice Presidency of International Relations of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Roy Dana, Member of the International Relations Commission of the PSUV, and Jacobo Torres, a member of the National Constituent Assembly. Their message to the international observers was clear: there is a diplomatic, media and economic war being waged against Venezuela - a war that can be countered with our eyewitness accounts of the May 20th elections and the reality in Venezuela today.

      At the meeting, we were also able to sign on to an international declaration issued by those who had observed the election, defending the process as free, fair and legitimate. This was especially important for us as we read the Canadian government’s absolutely false and inflammatory statement condemning the Venezuelan elections.

      As eyewitnesses to the elections, we can say with certainty that the victory of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was anything but “illegitimate.” President Maduro’s re-election was transparent, free, and fair. In fact, the Bolivarian revolutionary process has a proven record of open and transparent elections, even receiving recognition from former US President Carter for having an election process that is "the best in the world.”

      For us, there is no question that the governments of the United States, Canada, the European Union and the mass media that serves as their mouthpiece are lying about not only the May 20th election, but also about the reality of Venezuelan society today. Caracas is a vibrant city, there are hardships, but the people of Venezuela are committed to building a country that is independent, sovereign and free from the right-wing counter-revolutionary violence. They are working hard to defend their revolution, and now we must return home and continue to do our part to end the sanctions, threats and all imperialist intervention in Venezuela.

      Follow Thomas on Twitter:@thomasdavies59
      Follow Mike on Twitter:@Mikael_L7
      Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette

      Back to Article Listing