Impressions from Petare

David Smilde

I spent the morning visiting electoral centers in Petare with a couple of colleagues, talking with voters, observing the centers. Here are a few impressions.

The turnout appears to be massive. Many people we talked to had spent several hours in line, some had gotten there at four in the morning. The Casco Histórico de Petare was entirely closed off to traffic. It has 6 or 7 voting centers and looks like a street party with lines winding around several blocks. One line in El Llanito was close to a kilometer long. There were so many people in the streets it’s hard to imagine who stayed home. On election day you see Venezuelan democratic culture at its best.

While there seemed to be little campaigning in and around the electoral centers, there is almost no control of electoral advertisements around them. There are posters of both Chavez and Capriles all over. However, many of the Chávez signs were enormous, while most of the Capriles signs were of standard size. We saw a couple of “punto rojos”—red awnings with PSUV representatives—that were too close to the electoral centers. In one electoral center Primero Justicia was handing out yellow handkerchiefs.

In a few places we saw caravans of pro-Chávez motorizados which some people considered a nuisance. In all but one case it was no more than this. However, in Jose Felix Ribas a MUD coordinator told us that some pro-Chávez motorcyclists had come and intimidated people who were waiting to vote and who had on Capriles t-shirts (which is not permitted). Apparently there was an altercation. That was the one voting center where tension was manifest.

Many voting centers in the working class parts of Petare had members of the Militia working alongside National Guard. From what we saw they were acting in an entirely professional manner. We did not see any Militia members in the middle class areas of Palo Verde and El Marques.

Most people we talked to expressed trust in the system and that their vote is secret. However many hesitated as they affirmed this. Voters in the more middle class voting centers in El Marques and Turumo expressed more skepticism but affirmed that they felt they had to vote even if there was a risk.

Most electoral centers were characterized by absolute normality. In one in Palo Verde two of the six machines were malfunctioning, causing delays. We heard complaints about (but not from) people who pressed the “vote” button before the full picture had appeared on the screen, and their votes ended up being null.

Petare is a place where Carlos Ocariz and Primera Justicia have a strong presence. In impressionistic terms (which is all you can get from these kinds of visits) it is clear that the days of overwhelming pro-Chávez vote among these “popular sectors” are over.  The Capriles supporters  we talked to from the opposition seemed more determined and more enthusiastic than the Chávez supporters.  This might not necessarily be true in places like Catia or los Valles de Tuy.

Tonight I will upload some photos and videos.