Despatch from Caracas: Observing the Venezuelan elections

Grahame Morris MP reports from Caracas on the recent Venezuelan elections, won by left wing candidate Hugo Chavez.


Hugo Chávez’s electoral victory should be a great source of hope to everyone seeking to turn back the tide of the neo-liberalism sweeping Europe, writes Grahame Morris MP (Labour, Easington)

In Venezuela, as an international election observer, the inspiring scenes I witnessed of millions of people – of all ages, men and women, and all races – queuing to cast their vote for Hugo Chávez was in sharp contrast to two recent articles on these pages.

Just as much of the UK media inaccurately presented the race as tight – Hugo Chavez won by 11% which would be a landslide in British or US elections – these pieces made disputable claims about Venezuelan democracy and largely made no mention of the tremendous social achievements that laid the foundations for the election results.

The truth is Venezuela is one of the most democratic countries in the world; as Nobel Prize winner Jimmy Carter said last month:

“Of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”

He added that Hugo Chavez won:

“…fairly and squarely.”

The Presidential election was the 15th electoral contest since Hugo Chávez came to office in 1999. That’s more sets of elections than were held in the previous 40 years in Venezuela.

Turnout has soared: Sunday’s election saw 81% voting and the numbers participating in Venezuela presidential elections have risen from 6.5 million to 15 million under Chávez. Voter registration has doubled to 19 million. The modern fingerprint verification and automated voting system allows people of all social classes including those who can’t read and write to vote.

However, one of the articles on Left Foot Forward claimed the voting system had put people off and allowed Chávez to win. The record turnout alone should be enough to refute this.

As should the Carter Centre election report that the right-wing coalition:

“…have participated in the (16) pre-audits and said they are confident in the security mechanisms and the secrecy of the vote… [and] have therefore categorically concluded there is no evidence whatsoever that it is possible to connect or reconstruct the link between fingerprint/ID number and the vote.”

But if that’s not enough then the public statements from the head of the right wing coalition’s campaign that in Venezuela “the vote is secret” should put an end to such unfounded comments.

The real reason Hugo Chávez won has absolutely nothing to do with electoral abuses. It’s down to his progressive social policies which address the needs of Venezuela’s poor majority. For example in the past year alone 250,000 new social houses have been built and state pensions made available for all.

More widely, free healthcare and education have become a reality. Illiteracy has been eradicated to UNESCO standards; infant mortality has reduced dramatically from 20 to 13 per 1,000; unemployment has fallen from 14.5% to 7.6%, and the number of Venezuelans in extreme poverty has dropped from 24.7% to 8.5%.

It is for these reasons Chávez’s vote has continually risen and that he won 8.1 million votes last week – a record in Venezuelan history. That’s almost the same number of votes Labour won at the 2010 general election even though our electorate is two-and-a-half times bigger.

Critics of Chávez – including some on the left – who emphasise his alliances with states with dubious records on human rights should look to the long list of despotic regimes Britain and other western democracies continue to support and sell arms to; moreover, Venezuela’s international alliances are mainly with Latin America where they are especially positive.

That is why the words of former Brazilian President Lula are perhaps the best rebuttal to those misrepresenting Venezuela:

“Progressive governments are changing the face of Latin America. Today, we are an international reference point for a successful alternative to neoliberalism…

“Under Chavez’s leadership, the Venezuelan people has made extraordinary gains. The popular classes have never ever been treated with such respect and dignity. Those conquests must be preserved and strengthened. Your victory will be ours.”

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has accepted the result. Governments across the world including Latin America and Europe recognise Chavez’s mandate. His success in attracting 55% of the votes in a democratic process his opponents accept is free and fair is an incredible feat. Hugo Chavez is the democratically elected President of Venezuela. Anyone who protests to the contrary does so, not because they are a democrat, but because they do not like the result.

À la carte democracy is alive and strong in the dark recesses of neo-liberal thinking; but then, we knew that already.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.