A Venezuelan voter casts her ballot in Sunday's opposition primary. (Photo: Staff)
By 11am on Sunday, February 12, the sun was already beating down strongly on the many Venezuelan citizens waiting in line to vote. Despite the nearly unbearable heat, nobody was complaining. In fact, the exuberance of the people waiting for three, four, or five hours in line to vote for their candidate in the Democratic Unity Table presidential primary election was contagious. Nothing like this had happened any time recently in Venezuela history and the excitement in the air was palpable.
As an election observer invited by the party — here it’s referred to as the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) — I was lucky enough to experience what many hope will be an historic day for this country. The government of President Hugo Chávez had mounted a disinformation campaign that asked people not to vote in the opposition primary election organized by the MUD and forbade government workers and members of the Chavez political party PSUV from voting. The government told people that no more than 800,000 people would vote and the results would be insignificant. Even MUD supporters were fearful about low voter turnout given the risks many people might have to take in order to go to the polls. Government workers feared for their jobs, contractors thought they would lose their government contracts and business people worried that they would be persecuted by government authorities. Their most optimistic projections were that two million people would come out to the polls.
What happened that day was a remarkable exercise of the democratic process. People lost their fear and came out in droves. Young people mixed with octeganarians at polls I visited. Even some government workers decided that they preferred to honor their democratic rights rather than remain intimidated. The government here frowns on international electoral observers, but when we were introduced in the polling station both the staff and the voters broke out in applause. Even the military personnel who guarded the polls seem to get caught up in the optimism of the moment.
Other than the long lines the election process went very smoothly. In past elections, machines were used that did not provide paper receipts so verification of the results was impossible. New machines were present at this election that allowed each participant to check his or her vote before depositing it in the ballot box. Despite widespread fear that it would happen, no government intimidation happened at the polls I visited.
Last night at 9pm, the results were announced by the MUD — more than three million voters overcame their fears and voted. The winner with 1.8 million votes was Henrique Capriles Radonski, who has promised a government of unity for all Venezuelans. He invited all the candidates he ran against to join him on the stage to demonstrate the unity that exists within the MUD. It is expected that some of them will join his government should he win the election. Now, the challenging work for the MUD will begin: to build a winning campaign that might unseat Hugo Chavez, with his willingness to employ all the powers of the state to stay in office. But for this day, the Venezuelan people enjoyed a breath of fresh air and the promise of a new dialogue on where the country is headed.
(Image: The Economist)
Support for democracy has risen in Latin America, according to a new poll from Latinobarómetro. In Peru, for example, support for democracy has peaked at 61 percent, after a low of 40 percent in 2005. In Uruguay, nearly 80 percent of respondents are satisfied with the way democracy works in their country. And in Venezuela, 84 percent believe that democracy is preferable to any other form of government.
Equally promising (but not surprising) is the corresponding rise in support for free market institutions.
Who could not be amazed by the week’s news footage of 33 miners being rescued from a collapsed Chilean mine after being trapped for 70 days 700 meters below the earth’s surface? The Chilean rescue mission was an amazing feat of technology and organized planning—especially given that country earlier this year suffered a crippling earthquake, one of the largest in its history. The event has focused renewed attention of the powerhouse that Chile has become in the region. Its president, Sebastián Piñera, already one of the country’s richest and most successful businessmen, now enjoys success as a humanist who went to great lengths to save the 33 trapped miners. But President Piñera was not the only person making headlines because of the rescue.
Kimber Shearer is deputy director for Latin America programs at the International Republican Institute.
Chile has been one of the most developed countries in Latin America for the last 25 years, with a dynamic free market economy. As a role model for economic reform, Chile has seen strong growth rates coupled with sound monetary policies to limit the deficit and balance the national budget. The Global Competitiveness Report for 2009-2010 ranks Chile as the 30th most competitive country in the world and the most competitive in Latin America. While these economic characteristics help Chile stand out among its neighbors, they’ve also contributed greatly to sustaining what really separates Chile from its neighbors – democratic governance.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez taken more than a few a steps toward the establishment of a totalitarian state in Venezuela. We have all heard of the systematic repression of the freedom of the press, the confiscation of broadcasting companies that oppose the government plan and of the mandatory broadcasts of all his speeches. Now President Chavez’s grip on freedom of expression has taken the form of a decree, that establishes the “Centro de Estudio Situacional de la Nacion” (CESNA) or the “Center for Situational Study of the Nation”. This new institution has the power to declare “confidential, classified or restricted the disclosure of any information, fact or circumstance considered to be of national interest.”
Local entrepreneurs benefit from the additional tourists that BioAdventure brings to this market (Photo: CIPE)
During a recent trip to Peru we had the opportunity to meet Karolo Pérez Alvarado, a participant in the 2008 LiderAcción youth entrepreneurship program. Taking advantage of the LiderAcción courses on business plan development, as well as one-on-one sessions with LiderAcción’s business plan coaches, Karolo and three other students from Tarapoto, San Martín province worked together to develop a business plan for a bio-tourism company called BioAdventure. Given the rich bio-diversity of the San Martín region, Karolo and his teammates recognized an opportunity to improve upon the basic touristic offerings in their community by injecting adventure into the equation. Based on their plan for BioAdventure, they were awarded first prize in the 2008 LiderAcción business plan contest.
The Institute for International Finance is predicting that Venezuela will experience a 42 percent inflation rate this year, one of the highest in the world and the highest in the Latin America and Caribbean region. They report that this will have a heavy impact on the prospects for growth in the country for many years to come.