Monday October 8, 2012
From slums to rich districts, Venezuelans vote en masse
CARACAS: From the red-brick slums of Caracas to its elegant wealthy neighborhoods, throngs of Venezuelans lined up Sunday to vote for President Hugo Chavez or his fresh-faced rival Henrique Capriles.
Hundreds of people waited patiently in a parking lot in the 23 de Enero (January 23) "barrio" to vote in the same school where Chavez, a hero of this slum bastion, cast his own ballot in the afternoon.
Norvi Henriquez, a 38-year-old teacher, changed voting district just so she could vote in the same place as "Comandante Chavez," the leftist leader who has used the country's oil wealth to pay for health care and education programs.
"I wanted to be close to him and maybe see him," she said of the president, who was battling his strongest challenger in almost 14 years in power.
Up the line, agronomy expert Yurbi Castro said he was waiting with "joy" to vote for Chavez but that if Capriles pulled a major upset, Venezuelans would work together.
Nearby, a young woman wore a white hat and white T-shirt, a code among supporters of Capriles, a 40-year-old former state governor who has united the country's once-divided opposition.
"It's an extremely important day," said Jenny Navarro, 25. "This is our best chance, but I don't think we are going to win."
"If I lose tonight, I will cry, but I will accept it," she said.
Higher up in a more run-down part of the hillside slum, a crowd waited in a joyous atmosphere for their turn to vote. Several people wore the red colors of Chavez.
Members of the president's PSUV party handed out free food to the voters some 20 meters (yards) from the school-turned-polling station.
"We are conducting a political, community and revolutionary job," said Maria Ruiz, the 58-year-old of the "logistics center."
Another party loyalist sat under a red beach umbrella, facing a red table with a list of dozens of names and phone numbers of Chavez supporters. The names of those who voted were marked off with a cross.
"At noon, if we see that our lists are not complete, we will look for the persons or we call them to find out what's going on and invite them to come vote," said Lisbeth Carmona. A colleague added: "Nothing is obligatory."
On the other side of the city, in the wealthy strongholds of the opposition, the voters were just as numerous.
Christian Gonzalez, a 37-year-old engineer, took his four-year-old son to vote with him in the Chacao district. His right pinky was purple from the indelible ink used to mark people who voted.
"The country is making a very important decision. We want a new direction," he said, paraphrasing the Capriles campaign slogan. "I think it's going to be a close race, but that (Capriles) will win." - AFP