16J Mid-Day Update: A shockingly trouble-free vote

Defying expectations of harassment and intimidation, huge crowds of Venezuelans lined up around the country and throughout the world amid virtually complete calm.

Halfway through the National Assembly-convened “Popular Consultation” today, reports of irregularities, intimidation and violence have been shockingly few and far between. Venezuelans worldwide have been called to express themselves on whether they support a government-proposed Constituent Assembly to re-write the constitution, or whether they want a new National Unity government to lead a transition away from chavismo. The referendum, self-organized without the help of the government-controlled National Elections Council, is legally non-binding (but politically explosive.)

As of mid-day, just five reports of intimidation had been logged. Two in Cojedes, and one in Amazonas, where according to witnesses, SEBIN and CICPC units shot tear-gas canister into a voting center. In Catia, there were reports of the theft of a bag containing ballots, after colectivos also tried briefly unsuccessfully to stop people from voting. The final one, and the only currently ongoing, is taking place in Sucre State — as SEBIN stopped voting at a single voting center.

That’s a grand total of just one of violence or intimidation in Caracas. No reports in any other large city nationwide.  Worldwide.

The colectivos basically took the morning off. SEBIN slept in, too.

Fiesta democrática

For once, the hoary old cliché means something. There’s a party atmosphere out there….

Big lines have formed at voting centers around the world, in an atmosphere that’s generally described as convivial, with lots of praise for organizers for putting together a simple, well-run vote. There are lots of photos and videos on Youtube, many very moving. We just picked out one to give you a sense of the atmosphere in Caracas…


That’s Venezuelans expressing happiness about having to stand in line. Stunning.

SIBCI on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

State media is having a collective aneurism. Its response seems badly disorganized. Parts of the propaganda system is attacking the vote, other parts are reporting it straight, while other outlets go into total denial mode.

Here, for example, is the home page for VTV, the main state propaganda organ, at around 11 a.m.

The only election news it covers is the government’s lame-ass drill ahead of the July 30th constituyente elections. No surprise, VTV has been a real-news free area for years.

Likewise, Ultimas Noticias, probably the most infamous of the now government-aligned newspapers, decided to wish good morning to readers with this beautiful frontpage starring Jorge Rodríguez:

As for PSUV’s official twitter account?

Really weird picture of Diosdado Cabello’s face while talking to the media. Referring to the constituyente’s drill as a “big, popular party”.

The garishly Orwellian “Misión Verdad” at least acknowledges the vote is happening — but only to attack it:

But the Bolichico-run and government friendly El Universal surprises us by running the news relatively straight…

The multiplicity of approaches — “ignore it!” “no, attack it!” “no way, just cover it straight!” — suggests a government totally out at sea on how to respond to this mobilization.

The one thing that seems relatively clear is that Maduro’s speech last night calling on his armed colectivos to respect today’s Consulta Popular wasn’t just for show. They really do seem to have been called off.

That, in itself, is amazing.

Voting Worldwide

Venezuelans abroad, who haven’t been able to vote in years, are out in numbers all around the world. Let no one say the Venezuelan entrepreneurial spirit is dead:

Voting’s happening in all kinds of places. A bar in Berlin. A living room in northern Québec and a sailing club in Uganda. Somebody put together a voting center in Reunion Island — in the middle of the Indian Ocean. And of course, the big diaspora hotspots — Miami, Madrid, Bogotá — have dozens of well-attended voting centers on.

Se acabó la dictadura, chico. Yo me voy a tomar un ron.