Photos: Mabel Sarmiento
Although the National Electoral Council (CNE) opened the registry for data updates and the creation of new voter entries as stealthily as possible, word spread and for the past two weeks, there’s been constant registration lines at the electoral body’s Plaza Venezuela office. Young people decided to burn their last democratic round. They don’t trust the system, but they want to vote.
“Otherwise, I’d have to leave the country, and I don’t want that.”
That’s coming from Luis González, a young man who recently turned 18 and who left his home in El Junquito at 4:00 a.m. He took a perrera (trucks used for public transport) and crossed over 20 km to register as a voter. He carried a backpack with an arepa, a traditional Venezuelan dish that has become the privilege of a few.
Luis didn’t want to climb on the truck, but it was the only means to reach downtown Caracas that early in the morning.
“Just imagine, I’m 18, I have to stand in huge lines in order to eat and now I have to climb on a truck. I don’t want that. I want a free, safe Venezuela where people aren’t starving to death. That’s why I’ll vote. Even though I don’t trust the CNE, it’s a stage for participation that we can’t give up.”
He arrived at CNE offices at 7:30 a.m. After standing in line for almost a block, he managed to be among the 700 people who are registered everyday.
Young people decided to burn their last democratic round. They don’t trust the system, but they want to vote.
He went there expressly for the registration, but he made friends and he speaks his mind: “I went to every march in 2017, two of my friends died in the protests, all of my cousins are living abroad. And again, I don’t want to leave, I’ll wait for these elections. There’s no country like Venezuela, but it’s being destroyed and I want to live, to work on what I love, and I don’t have a chance here.”
His optimism comes and goes. When he talks about the future, he does so with determination but when his feet are back in the line, his eyes grow dark with despair. “We young people don’t deserve this.”
Aretsay Rodríguez agrees: “I’m here to support my country. I know it won’t be easy, with all the CNE’s tricks, but we have to do something. We young people are suffering. There are no jobs, no food, kidney patients die because there’s no dialysis.”
She travelled from Los Teques, Miranda, to formally register as a voter in Caracas. She tried to do it for two weeks with no luck. “But I managed to get them to take my ID today (the first 700 people in line have to surrender their IDs to get entry to CNE offices) and I’ll finally register. It’s a big step. This will be my first vote, because I don’t want to leave my country.”
Dodging the trap
While I talk with Luis and Aretsay, others who are standing in line approach. They didn’t think their first vote would demand such a tortuous track.
Years ago, citizens who reached legal age could readily and gladly register with a system whose credibility and operation weren’t in question.
Since the socialist revolution took over Venezuela, there’s been 19 elections in 17 years and the opposition has called out a fraud in most of them, considering the regime’s multiple electoral violations: no electoral registry updates, no indelible ink, no candidate replacements, voters are relocated in the last minute to other voting stations and abundant proselytism, among other irregularities that have slowly eroded citizen participation.
CNE is completely subservient to the chavista regime. “We know they’ve got the trap set up, but we still have hope, perhaps because we’re young,” says a girl who’s also a single mom and can’t imagine herself leaving her baby with her family as she emigrates. “Because that’s what’s happening, moms leave the country and their children. Why should I miss the first years of my son’s life? What this government does is unfair. I want to vote, so I don’t have to leave.”
A rosary of sorrows
David Rodríguez also made the trip from Los Valles del Tuy at 4:00 a.m. along with two friends. There’s no stable public transport at that time of day and that area is quite unsafe, but he braved all of that.
He stood in line a bit farther back from Luis and Aretsay, but he’d still get to register that day. He’s not overly excited for the implications of that civic act, he’s got a rosary of sorrows on his back: “We don’t get much of a chance to grow here. I’m also thinking of leaving; I want to vote, hope is the last thing we lose. Now everything depends on the candidates. Everything’s about money here and it might end up being a fraud.”
With his arms crossed, David’s optimism, unlike Luis’, is in shambles. “They always cheat.”
It’s 9:30 a.m. and they still have half a block to go. Some eat their breakfast while in line, others are sitting in the garden before the CNE’s office.
Many have left the country and what we’re doing is an act of courage.
“I hope they don’t say the system went down,” says Érika Castillo, another potential voter for the upcoming April 22 elections. “Because that’s the other issue. We come here and sometimes we can’t do what we’re here for.”
Castillo also got up early to leave her home in La Rinconada, Coche parish. “This will be my first vote and what a vote. My family and friends, many have left the country and what we’re doing is an act of courage. We’re coming before a CNE riddled with vices and here we are, standing in line because we don’t want to keep suffering to find food and jobs. Many of us leave school to help our parents. We want a change to stop this.”
I got the feeling that these young citizens burn with the desire to stay, to grow and build their families. I understood that they’re only being forced to emigrate because of the actions of a criminal regime that has taken over production, food and medicine distribution, the media, public transport and services just to stay in power.
Venezuelan citizens turning 18 have until February 20 to register. The current dilemma is whether to vote or not; many think that turning up for elections is once again validating the CNE and others think that not doing so is leaving the streets empty for madurismo.
The one truth is that many of these new voters are determined to make the most of this last round.