For the people of El Limón, Delson Guárate once represented hope. His election as mayor of this suburban zone in the mountains north of Maracay shook Aragua state’s politics in 2014. Three years later, Guárate is reported in Miami, seeking asylum after a stint as political prisoner.
“El Limón used to be a beautiful place, then when Belkis Porte became mayor, it turned more into Maracay” Carlos, an engineer in his 20s, tells me. Now living in Chile, he spent all his life in that community of over 100,000 wildly different people. Its long, hilly streets and alleys of old upper-class houses live side-by-side with self-built ranchos.
A tough area to rule, but the amicable and energetic Guárate wasn’t your common candidate either. The youngest of 14 children from a poor mother, he rose quickly as city councilman (at 20), later working with Voluntad Popular in Chacao under Leopoldo López and Emilio Graterón.
Pitted against him was general Víctor Flores Urbina, described by Carlos as “your average chavista thug.” Flores Urbina had all the support and resources that the PSUV could afford, including a post as municipal coordinator for Misión Vivienda.
It was an uphill battle, but also a prime example of how chavismo could be defeated in the polls.
Carlos’ perspective about Guárate, though, is less than idealistic. “He just promised things he knew he couldn’t do. Gyms, free Wi-Fi, never discussing finance.”
He forgot about a lot of people once he got elected. What’s the point of voting if you end up with the same guy in different outfits?
“When we worked in his campaign, we didn’t do it to get any favors. We just wanted the best for our community,” Teresa tells me, sitting on her porch with a cafecito. For over 50 years she has lived in El Limón, the place where she raised her children and now, pushing 80, she still runs a small business there.
Perpetually active in politics, her disappointment with Delson was there from day one. For her, it’s like the new mayor was more interested in parties and public appearances than working. “He forgot about a lot of people once he got elected. What’s the point of voting if you end up with the same guy in different outfits?”
Meanwhile, Flores Urbina, with backing from Maracay Mayor Pedro Bastidas and Governor Tareck El-Aissami, was heading the municipality’s “Institute of Autonomous Development” — the parallel local government chavismo created after his mayoral defeat.
With the support of the City Council and grassroots organizations like Frente Francisco de Miranda, he went to war against Delson. From refusing him the use of garbage trucks, causing mountains of waste on the streets, to municipal building raids, chavismo acted through Flores as it always does each time it loses an election.
Some say Guárate was way over his head, but for Teresa, the issue was deeper. “His family worked in construction and he had a hand in some shady land acquisitions.”
In a story retold by locals again and again, but so far unverified, Guárate was seen in a well-known café discussing the use of protected land in the national park for housing construction, something he had protested in the past.
It was his undoing. The SEBIN arrested him, and the Public Ministry indicted both him and his predecessor, Belkis Porte, for crimes against the environment.
His preliminary court hearing was suspended at least ten times and charges about weapons possession were never substantiated.
But while Porte went off the radar, an anonymous employee of the Public Ministry recalls how Flores Urbina, now commanding ZODI Aragua, set up a stage in front of the Public Ministry blasting off llanero music and insults to Guárate.
From then on, Delson became a political prisoner. His preliminary court hearing was suspended at least ten times and charges about weapons possession were never substantiated. The City Council named PSUV’s Brullerby Suárez as acting mayor, he later arrested by the CICPC on looting charges.
Detained in El Helicoide while suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, Guárate’s health worsened. He was sent to the Military Hospital in Caracas, from where he tried to run both as governor for Aragua and mayor of his old seat. He was finally released on parole November 2017, and promptly made a dash for the Colombian border before seeking points north.
“I’m a Venezuelan whose only crime has been winning elections” Delson once claimed. Does chavismo need any other excuse?