Referendum vs. Constituent: Hang in There, Venezuela!

On the 16th of July, the Venezuelan people voted to express their disagreement with the government and the proposal of the Constituent National Assembly. There were three questions to be answered in the popular referendum:

  1. Do you reject and deny the Constituent proposed by Nicolas Maduro made without the approval of the people
  2. Do you request the National Armed Forces to obey and protect the 1999 Constitution and to support the decisions of the National Assembly?
  3. Do you approve the renovation of the public powers according to what is established in the Constitution and the call to free and transparent elections and additionally the formation of a national union government to re-establish the constitutional order?

You could cut the tension with a knife since the very same day the government decided to have a “rehearsal” of their CNA in many public schools, so you had pro-government and anti-government people side by side. By 10 am there were already some referendum voting centers attacked by pro-government armed groups that destroyed the boxes with the votes. In the afternoon, a woman was killed by another pro-government armed group that got to a voting center and started shooting randomly.

Xiomara Escot was her name; she was a 61-year-old nurse voting in one of Caracas most known shanty towns “Catia.” How do you know these armed groups were pro-government? They threw tear gas bombs that day, how else could they get that if not from the government?

Despite all the terror these armed groups use to “defend” the legacy of Chávez, the Venezuelan opposition went out to the streets and voted: 7,186,170 votes.

These results may reflect different things and can, therefore, be interpreted in many ways. The first element to be noted is that when popular referendums are called in Venezuela, the Electoral National Council (CNE in Spanish) is not involved. This was an anti-government popular referendum so the CNE didn’t participate at all and even said that if there were any act of violence the voting center would be closed by the military forces of the state.

A third of the polling stations usually used in national elections were in use, which meant more queues and more waiting time to go and vote. No police or military forces were protecting the organizers and the boxes full of votes. It was all organized in less than 15 days. And despite all of this, more than 7 million people went and voted.

What Does it Mean?

For us, those opposed to the government, it meant we are no longer afraid, we know we are the majority now. This is the math we do, 7 million people were brave enough to go and vote despite all the threats and terror, how many more didn’t go and vote but still disagree?

We have now to convince them to go and express their opinion. The rehearsal of the government’s CNA that was carried out the same day was empty, some places had lines of people, but they were still just a few compared to the lines of people voting against the government.

Compared to 2013 presidential elections this popular referendum did not have different numbers. In 2013 when Maduro raced against Capriles for the presidency, they both had 7 million votes (Maduro had 7,500,000 and Capriles 7,270,000). So you may think it is the same number of people that went and voted in this referendum. However, if we consider the previously mentioned elements of terror used against civilians and the few days that were granted to make it happen, the results are a hard blow for the government.

What Have the International Institutions Said?

The Secretary of the OEA, Luis Almagro, has been following Venezuela’s case and has been paying a lot of attention to the reports of violence, torture, and police abuse. He said that the popular referendum was a democratic act and invited the citizens to go and vote Sunday 16th. After having the results, he said the government should stop the Constituent because the people are clearly against it and that many international politicians have studied the proposal and declared it goes against the Constitution.

On the other hand, Mercosur has said that the sanctions for Venezuela were going to be strong if the government continued its plan of having the Constituent Assembly elections today, Sunday 30th. However, in the final written document the statement has been softened and they just “suggest” the government and the opposition not to divide the country any further and to re-establish constitutional order or powers. This last statement implies they know there is no constitutional order in the country, but nothing more. It seems to be that this soft tone was due to the lack of support of Brasil and Argentina, two of the strongest members of the organization.

Constituent National Assembly on Sunday 30th

So, today on Sunday the 30th the government is having the elections of the members of the Constituent National Assembly, to start the process of modifying the constitution and finally building a “real revolutionary country.” They say this is the real path towards socialism, peace, and progress. Yeah right, they have been saying the same for the last 17 years, for every single new project, modification, law or mission.

We have had the “true” step towards revolution way too many times already. But apparently, nothing is going to stop them. Let’s wait to see what happens this Sunday.

About Isabel Matos

Isabel is a Venezuelan translator that struggles to find a voice and to prosper in today’s political turmoil and tension. She is also an undergraduate English teacher and is currently pursuing a Master’s in English as a Foreign Language. Translator, teacher and always student, she is interested in how language shapes reality and how women and men negotiate power through discourse.

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