February 15, 2009

Our Man in Catia [UPDATE V: 4:41 pm - Psycho Mesa President]

Quico says: One longtime Caracas Chronicles reader is working as a No-camp witness at the Escuela Nacional 24 de Julio in Catia (by Plaza Sucre Metro Station), in deep red chavista territory in Caracas's West Side. In the last referendum in December, 2007, this voting center went for the Sí by a 58% to 42% margin. Three months ago, PSUV's candidate for Metro Caracas mayor, Aristobulo Izturiz, beat the opposition's Antonio Ledezma 61% to 36%, with 60% turnout.

Our Man in Catia has agreed to discretely email sporadic reports from his blackberry.

Photo added 4:00 p.m.

12:26 p.m.: Everything's OK, although the Presidenta of my mesa is a pain in the neck. She wouldn't allow me to verify that the Cédula (ID card) of the voter was in the cuaderno de votación (the voter registry). This was a mayor hassle and the coordinadora of the CNE and Plan República came up to my table. My position was that I couldn't be a witness of the process if I wan't allow to have a look. She said I was obstructing the process. I then said I wasn't going to impose but that I requested we made an Acta that said that they would'nt allow me to verify this, but they (the presidenta and the coordinadora) wouldn't allow that either, it was getting very tense when a National Witness came up with a compromise; I was allowed to check one cédula at random every 10 to 15 voters. At least there appears to be mechanisms to resolve disagreements.

Of 550 voters in my mesa about 250 have voted already.

1:15 pm: A red truck with booming loudspeakers and a Sí sticker drove in front of the center making a call against abstention. The volume was unbelievably high!

2:05 pm: It's a bit slower now, might be because it's lunchtime. The school I'm working at is right in the middle of Catia. The streets are narrow, filthy and full of people out on a Sunday. It's more like a scene from an outdoor market, with buhoneros selling all sorts of things from little tents: pirate DVDs, clothes, fruit.

The school is not small. It's clean but pretty much run down. From the classroom where I'm working I can hear the odd vendor announcing their goods through loudspeakers.

I can't say people seem very excited about being here, either to work at the voting center or to vote. I chatted a bit with the witness for the Sí-camp. Her name is Isabel and she's a nurse who lives in Catia and works in Barrio Adentro. She was quite frank with me and said that she couldn't care less what the result turns out to be; she had to be here as an obligation, because she doesn't want to risk losing her job so, just in case, she comes and works as a witness, and votes (Sí).

This is the first time I meet someone who thinks like this. In a polarized society like ours, it's weird to meet people who couldn't care less what the result is, who would rather stay home, but vote for the government "just in case". She says "there's only one government, I worked for the government and I have to vote for them just in case I get found out". I tried to explain to her that the government and the state are two separate things and that she works for the state and the government is temporary. I don't think she cares about that either.

The members of my voting table are very quiet except for the President, a fierce and authoritative lady. I can't say they lean either way, but the Presidenta sure likes the sound of her own voice. After our last confrontation when she didn't want to allow me to stand next to the Cuaderno that logs the people's ID, and I almost got kicked out by Plan Republica she's a lot calmer. I gave her some Marilu cookies as a peace offering which she accepted and laughed about.

I just saw from the classroom window a red pickup truck with several guys with red shirts and red flags with the Si slogan all over. I asked the witness for the Sí-camp whether this was not allowed and she said "Yes, they are not allowed to do that but who is going to stop them?"

It's 2:05pm and 307 of 550 people have voted.

3:33 pm: Already we have more turn out at this mesa than last November. 359 people have voted whereas last time only 345 voted.

We were all offered food by the CNE, a very simple spaghetti with platano in an aluminum foil box. It was funny to hear the Presidenta of the mesa complain about the food and say she would rather get an allowance so she could go to McDonalds instead. Deep in Chavista territory, they have a taste for the food of the empire...

4:19 pm: A funny thing just happened. I'm just a newbie on this but we had to read the official regulations (reglamento) yesterday to be somewhat prepared.

Some time ago one of the mesa members announced that at 5pm we should do draw lots to choose the mesas to audit. But the rules say that this can only be done after the voting is finished, the actas de escrutino are printed and the results are transmitted to CNE.

So we called the CNE center coordinator and she also said it we should draw lots at 5pm. I explained that art 112 says that we have to wait until the results are transmitted and the blank stare in her face was a classic.

She said she was going to look into this and at a distance I checked she was reading the rule book. She agreed with our coordinator that we were right.

4:41 pm: I couldn't make this up if I wanted to: the Presidenta of my mesa is the worst of the whole center. All my other collegue witnesses in the other mesas are verifying cedulas with the mesa members. Not my Presidenta. But the funny thing is that my coordinator explained she is very well known here in Catia as a "landro", which is a new word to me but it appears it means she is the owner of about 50 buhonero (street hawker) stands in the area. Capitalism is alive and kicking in deep chavista territory.
If you have any questions for him, put them in the Comments and I'll try to forward them to him.