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Venezuela: A Surreal Democracy

By Alexandra Beech,

Even though I live in the US, I watch Venezuelan news through satellite on Canal Sur, which broadcasts a compedium of Latin American newscasts. Canal Sur airs at least two Globovision news broadcasts daily, so between the Internet and television, it is easy to follow the country’s events.

Over the weekend, I was struck by the chilling nature of this weekend’s exercise. Those who participated in the “repairs” process in Venezuela fell into several categories. There were those whose earlier signatures were invalidated for arbitrary reasons, such a smudged fingerprint or a missing middle initial. There were those who claimed that their name was eliminated for legitimate no reason. They simply appeared on the repairs list.

Then there were those who were helped when they filled out the forms. Needless to say, many elderly and handicapped fell into this category. When a Wall Street Journal editorial first reported this injustice, (especially when the norms didn’t forbid signers from receiving assistance), no one flinched.

However, it was surreal to see elderly men and women standing in long lines in order to prove that they meant to sign for a recall referendum against President Chavez. They stood in the rain for hours, often near groups of pro-government supporters sent to intimidate them. One woman in her eighties or nineties trembled into a television camera her determination to fill out her own form this time in order to invoke the referendum.

Another woman was too sick to attend. Her daughter, whose name also appeared on the repairs list, had to find a friend to sit with her mother so she could go “repair” her signature. Her mother’s name, however, will not count toward a recall referendum.

A few elderly men appeared on the repairs list as deceased, and were forced to prove, not only their identities, but their very existence.

This was a sad weekend in the history of Venezuela, when many of our country’s most fragile citizens were forced to withstand weather and intimidation in order to exercise their democratic and constitutional right to revoke the president’s mandate.

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