As CNE Moves the Goal Posts, Primero Justicia Activists Fight Like Hell, Fall Short

Primero Justicia failed to collect enough signatures to retain official party status last weekend. Activists were trying to recover from those days, but last night the CNE said they wouldn't get a second chance.

Photo: Radio Yara, retrieved

“We were working all out to keep ballot access for the MUD card and then the leadership changed strategies. They made us rush, gave us no time to react. We did everything we could. We’re so tired, because we didn’t have any logistics support from the party but, even so, I’m not disappointed. I’m disappointed in the people, not in the work we did.”

That’s the view of Ángel David León, a grassroots Primero Justicia leader in Caracas’s San Pedro parish, after the tough days after January 25th when the Supreme Tribunal (TSJ) ordered the National Electoral Council (CNE) not to allow MUD to gather signatures to try to stay on as an official party. 

The TSJ ruling forced Primero Justicia to scramble. Their activists marching orders had been to go all out to keep MUD’s ticket alive. Suddenly, activists had to change the entire plan around. Now the leadership told them they had to try to revalidate Primero Justicia’s own official party status.

“We didn’t have a choice” says León. “We had to organize everything in less than a day. Call people, send dozens of texts, knock on neighbors’ doors. It was an epic effort, historic, I’d say. Validate two political parties like PJ and AD in two days, those with the most supporters, called for tremendous logistics, extreme efforts.”

It was mathematically impossible to validate with so many obstacles, with just one machine for both parties, without time to let the voters know. But we did the job.

According to CNE, parties that didn’t participate in the mayor elections in December 2017, had to renew their official party status through an arbitrary signature collection process, in punishment since they “had sabotaged” last year’s (rigged) elections.

“It’s like they closed the door and when you’re climbing through the window they close that as well. So, we jumped in through the roof. We’ve done everything the CNE and TSJ asked. It was mathematically impossible to validate with so many obstacles, with just one machine for both parties, without time to let the voters know. We pretty much worked with our fingernails. It was really hard but we did the work, from the grassroots, as justicieros, because we believe in democracy and we love this country. I did it for my daughters and I’d do it again.”  

Ángel wore out his shoes looking for people. He made calls from his phone, he sent around 400 texts, he paid for the water with his own pocket and with borrowed cars or paying for people’s bus fare he mobilized his neighbors.

After all he did, the validation center he coordinated was 17 votes short of the goal. They got 283 votes. Around 11 people worked with him and each of them had a goal of bringing ten more people to back the party up.

A Lazy Party

The hardest day was Saturday 27. Party headquarters seemed to go silent. No one knew what was going on. 

“That was a flaw from PJ, that didn’t work,“ said Ana Ron, justiciera from parish El Valle, an alleged revolutionary bastion.

She was also surprised by the MUD card ban, but the biggest challenge was ahead: having to mobilize 600 people to the signature collection centers. They only managed 350, “and I’m proud of it. We did it with only one fingerprint scanning machine, with unequal rules imposed by the CNE, with angry technicians that wouldn’t let us help voters. That caused tons of disappointment. However, we didn’t back away from the fight.”

She said they had no water, that in order to go to the restroom, at a nearby mall, they took turns, same way they had meals. She had to coordinate the whole parish, go with area chiefs and be the face of the party: “I don’t regret it. With or without logistics, this fight is for Venezuela. I have a 14-year-old kid, I’m a single mom, I don’t have anything to feed him sometimes, I can’t send him to school. But I won’t back down in this fight.”

Ron has been justiciera for a year, and she works at the grassroots, on the streets, protests, neighbor’s houses. “Am I disappointed in the results? I am. Not of the amount of work (we did), I’m disappointed in the people. I understand they’re upset because of the dire situation in our country but we still have to sacar el pecho.

No Support and Surrounded

The long faces of justicieros were there all day, exhaustion overpowered them. Many went into battle on empty stomachs and, unlike in the past, the neighbors didn’t come to the yellow points with coffee or bottled water.

“It was really hard in Coche,” says saying Efraín Montilla, PJ youth secretary in the hardscrabble southwest Caracas parish. “We had a hard time settling in, we were under siege from the colectivos and GNB at all times.”

At 18, he decided to fight for Venezuela with a yellow PJ flag in his hand.

“We were validating with the MUD and we were working towards that goal. With the last minute changes, the going got tough and the party failed at keeping information flowing. People didn’t know what was going on. We had to find neighbors, convince them and well, out of those 266 we got 212. We didn’t stand there doing nothing, and that makes me feel proud of the militancia justiciera. I’m not disappointed. We had so little time, and I won’t judge the people, maybe some of them are mad[…]. Even though I’m so young, I’m glad and I want to keep going. I understand the party hasn’t made the best decisions, like when Juan Pablo Guanipa wouldn’t go before the ANC [to take the oath of office as Zulia state governor], but we have to fight back.”

The Coup de Grace

“We won’t quit. Justicieros are on the streets and we’ll continue standing up for Venezuela” said Ángel León. But that was before CNE announced Primero Justicia wouldn’t get a second chance to go out and gather the missing signatures after all. 

According to the electoral authority, the yellow party only got to the signature goal set 0,5 % of the electoral registry in two states, so, with a reparo process, it had to reach the goal in ten states.

Last night, however, Luis Emilio Rondón, tweeted that CNE had changed the rules in the middle of the game yet again. Violating the agreed schedule and blocking Primero Justicia from giving that step that would allow it a spot in the upcoming elections. As we write this, no reason has been given for this arbitrary decision.

Primero Justicia also had words on twitter for a move they consider contradictory:

“How can a government honor bilateral agreements coming from negotiations if it can’t even honor its own rulebook?”

The regime itself has no official word on the subject. Primero Justicia was “informed” of the decision and although Rondón’s tweet confirms it, neither the CNE nor any other government agency has come forward with an official statement.

Just as with MUD and Voluntad Popular, this move disqualifies Primero Justicia from having a spot on the ballot for this year’s presidential race. Primero Justicia is no longer considered an official political party by CNE.

At this point, Un Nuevo Tiempo, Acción Democrática, Avanzada Progresista, MAS, IP99 and COPEI are the only official political parties in the opposition.

All the others are rojo rojitos.



Mabel Sarmiento

Mabel Sarmiento is an UCAB-trained journalist with more than 20 years' experience covering community news, the environment, health, education and infrastructure.