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Venezuela Gears Up for Upcoming Elections

After the impact caused by the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and all the discussions regarding his burial, his funeral, or even whether his body was going to be embalmed, Venezuelan debates online are now focused on the country's next political episode: the April 14 presidential elections.

Online conversations have not only taken a dizzying pace, but they also depict the sharp division between supporters of the two competing political forces. At the same time, there is a complex debate ranging from the most neutral to the most extreme comments.

Supporters of the former president are now in favor of Nicolas Maduro, the current candidate and acting president, while the opposition emphasizes the differences between Maduro and Chávez. At the same time, Venezuelans discuss the possibility of a formal debate between the candidates, they make loyalty oaths, and they refer to Chavez's mythical figure of leadership. Frustration is perceived on both sides because of a lack of mutual understanding; some intend to promote dialogue and others report electoral abuse.

Although electoral campaigns have not officially kicked off, candidates and their supporters are already on the move. A new fast political race towards the new elections has started and political positions are being reaffirmed among restless opinions and online conversations.

Supporting Nicolas Maduro, José (Jose_18) [es] posts on Twitter:

Jose_18: Buenos dias Venezuela tenemos el mismo presidente, cuerpos diferentes mismo pensamiento y en honor al padre chàvez #MiVotoEsPaMaduro

Jose_18: Good morning, Venezuela. We have the same president. Although they have different bodies, they have the same ideas and honoring father Chávez #MiVotoEsPaMaduro (I'll vote for Maduro)

Moreover, many people criticize Nicolas Maduro's strategy of staying under Chávez's shade. The Madurodice [es] (Maduro says) website keeps count and statistics on the times the interim president has mentioned Hugo Chávez in his public speeches in both radio and television. So far, at the moment this post was published, the numbers were up to 4,542.

http://www.demotix.com/news/1864008/nicolas-maduro-announces-candidacy-venezuelan-president#media-1863998

Nicolas Maduro announcing his presidential candidacy. Caracas, Venezuela, March 11th, 2013. Photo by Santi Donaire. Copyright Demotix

Netizens supporting Nicolas Maduro use different hashtags, and some have become Trending Topics in Venezuela. One of them is #ConMaduroAlVolante (With Maduro at the wheel), a hashtag referring to his experience as a worker in the Caracas Metro system.

However, some users, like @Aquileronca [es], participated in this conversation to complain about urban violence spreading in the country:

@Aquileronca: #ConMaduroAlVolante Cuál patria? me robaron casi me matan enfrente de mi hijo, la patria es del hampa, ademas estamos mas divididos q nunca

@Aquileronca#ConMaduroAlVolante which nation? I was robbed and almost murdered in front of my son. The nation belongs to crime, besides that, we are more divided than ever.

Ana Cecilia (@Greciachrisana) [es] answered:

Greciachrisana@Aquileronca ese malandro es el resultado de una sociedad que ha venido en decadencia desde hace 40 años!

Greciachrisana@Aquileronca those criminals are the result of a society that has been in decline for 40 years!

Meanwhile, blogs like Antonio Aponte's Un Grando de Maíz [es] once again share criticisms of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski:

Cuando al Comandante [Chávez] le plantearon el debate con capriles sentenció: “no se puede debatir con la nada”. Y tenía razón. El candidato es una simple marioneta de intereses imperiales y de ese núcleo fascista que capturó a la mesa de la derecha.
Él no tiene luz propia, vida, movimiento, ni palabras, si no es llevado por las manos que, desde otra parte, mueven sus hilos

When someone proposed commander [Chávez] a debate with Capriles, he asserted: “you cannot debate with nothingness”. He was right. This candidate is just a puppet controlled by the empire's interests and the fascist core that has taken hold of the right-wing.
He neither stands out on his own nor conveys life, movement, or words, but is rather controlled by hands moving their threads somewhere else.

Nevertheless, the Enigmas Press [es] blog defends the idea of holding a debate:

No deberían haber tantos peros para que se dé un debate – Capriles – Maduro.

En cualquier sociedad sana y equilibrada y que se precie de ser una verdadera democracia el debate presidencial entre candidatos es algo normal.

Siempre forma parte de las reglas del juego.

There should not be so many excuses for a Capriles-Maduro debate.

Any healthy and balanced society that feels proud of being in a real democracy considers presidential debates as something normal.

It is always part of the rules of the game.

Henrique Capriles en Caracas, 30 de septiembre, 2012. Foto de Alejandro Rustom, Copyright Demotix.

Henrique Capriles in Caracas, September 30th, 2012. Photo by Alejandro Rustom. Copyright Demotix.

Additionally, Ramon Morales in his blog Ultimátum Hiperbóreo [es] emphasizes the values that, from his point of view, are at stake in this political division.

No se trata de política. Se trata del ser humano.[…] ¿Algún otro presidente había hecho tanto por el pueblo llano? Chávez era un hombre de pueblo, un hombre brusco y malhablado si lo comparamos con los muchos otros hombres educados y cultivados que tuvieron la oportunidad de hacer un cambio en Venezuela. Esos hombres educados y cultos, bienhablados y de raza adecuada, que pasaron por la presidencia, no hicieron ni la mitad del bien que Chávez hizo por nuestro pueblo.

It is not about politics. It's about the human being. [...] Has any other president done so much for the Venezuelan people? Chávez was a small-town man, a tough and foul-mouthed man if we compare him to the educated men who had the chance to change Venezuela. Those educated and well-spoken men coming from educated families, who had taken office, did not even do half of what Chávez did for our people.

He continues:

[…] Los opositores se burlaban de los chavistas llamándolos chusma, ignorantes, arrastrados. Los pata-en-el-suelo que víctimas de su propia ignorancia creían en las promesas de Chávez. Estos insultos, estos estereotipos fueron reales y masivos en Venezuela durante años.[...] Sin embargo hoy vemos –yo lo veo HOY– cómo los opositores se burlan de Nicolás Maduro, el metrobusero, el conductor de autobús que llegó a ser vicepresidente y que hoy es nuestro Presidente Encargado de la República. Se burlan del hecho de que una persona humilde logre ocupar un cargo tan alto.

Puede ser que ya no debamos hablar de “clases sociales” sino más bien de estratos sociales. Pero sí hay lucha de clases, y la sigue habiendo.

[…] People supporting the opposition mocked chavistas by calling them ignorant, mobs, or vile. The poor that believed in Chávez's promises because of their ignorance. Those insults and stereotypes were real and common in Venezuela for years [...] however, we currently see – I see it TODAY- how the opposition mocks Nicolás Maduro, a Metrobus driver, the driver who became vice president and is currently our temporary president of the republic. They mock the fact that a humble person could be in such a high position.

Maybe we cannot talk about social classes anymore, but rather about social stratus. There is a social clash and this clash still continues.

At the same time, Irya Puyosa shares a public note on Facebook [es] analyzing the motivations of both sides, which still drag scars and historical aspirations: equality as main value of chavismo, and freedom as the main value of those who oppose chavismo. Additionally, Puyosa highlights the emotions that encourage voters:

No son los indicadores, son las emociones.

El chavismo irá a votar con el pathos del duelo. Se les murió su mesías y los están llamando para un memorial de 10 millones votos.

(Les cuento un secreto: Yo soy hiperracional en mi trabajo. Y emo cuando me enamoro y cuando voto. En eso último, me parezco a las mayorías.)

Échenme un cuento que me emocione. Un drama, una épica, un evangelio. Un mito […]

No son los trending topics y el rating, son las relaciones personales.

It's not about indicators, it's about emotions.

Chavismo will vote with the mourning pathos. Their Messiah is now dead and they are being called to participate in a 10-million-vote memorial.

(Let me tell you a secret: I’m super rational in my work, and emo when I fall In love and when I vote. In the latter, I’m like the majority)

Tell me an emotional story, a drama, an epic, a gospel, a myth  […]

It’s not about trending topics and ratings, but rather about personal relationships.

She concludes:

¿Y si cambiamos de juego?
¿Y si jugamos a expresar nuestras identidades políticas?
¿Y si nos ponemos en movimiento?

La campaña no es de masas. Esto es un asunto personal. Es mi identidad. Es salir a encontrarnos con gente como uno. Y hacer esto juntos.

What if we change the game?

What if we express our political identities?

What if we start moving?

A campaign is not about multitudes. It is a personal issue. It is my identity. It is to get out and find people like us and do this together.

The Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog, administrated by members of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), shares some answers in the questions and answers section of The Latin America Advisor newsletter, which is published by Inter-American Dialogue. In the following extract they discuss the upcoming campaign and fairness in Venezuela's electoral system:

In 2012, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council once again showed that it runs a clean and effective election.[…] However, the CNE last year also showed itself unable to ensure a fair campaign. During Chávez’s presidency, the incumbent’s advantage took on grotesque dimensions with abuse of state media, public service messages and state resources and institutions on behalf of the governing party’s candidate.

Nevertheless, Nicolás Maduro is likely to win handily, not because of this incumbent’s advantage, but rather because more Venezuelans trust Chavismo than trust the opposition. They feel their lives improved during Chávez’s presidency and associate the opposition with Venezuela’s neoliberal period when poverty and inequality increased.

To shed light on those unfair advantages, the group Usted Abusó [es] (You abused), which started in the last elections, continues its activities and gathers concrete complaints which seek to ensure fairness in the campaigns of all candidates. Usted Abusó is on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook [all es], where you can see some cases and examples of unfair advantages in the electoral campaigns.

It is important to point out that for many people, both inside the country and abroad, Venezuelan political conversations online and on the street can be extremely confusing. This complexity can take unexpected turns and citizen media show voices and opinions that are hard to put into context. In this scenario, where many different actors are having conversations, debating or even contradicting themselves, Naky Soto [es] and Luis Carlos Díaz [es] host Google HangOuts where they try to explain different scenarios and the possible motivations of each side. The HangOuts are published and recorded on Youtube, and are also available on hangoutpolitico.blogspot.com [es].

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