Report Back from "The Other Elections - Democratic Triumph in Venezuela"

On October 18th, I went to E5 to hear a talk called "The Other Elections - Democratic Triumph in Venezuela". Omar Sierra, the Consul General of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Boston, and one other fellow talked about the recent presidential election in Venezuela.
I was really impressed by the Venezuelan government's efforts towards fair, democratic elections, as well as their commitment to doing well by the Venezuelan people. Here are a few points that stood out to me:

  • There was 80% participation in the most recent presidential election. In 2006, there was 68--70% participation.
  • Venezuela uses electronic voting. The voting machine software is open source; anyone is welcome to inspect the software and see how it works. After voting, voters can examine a paper receipt, showing their ballot selections. This way, a voter can verify that the choices recorded were the choices they made. 50% of voting tables are audited; this means that the paper results are tallied and compared to the electronic results. Results can only be reported after a successful audit.
    This really impressed me. In terms of transparency, accuracy, and integrity, the Venezuelans have a much better process than we do.
  • Venezuela has lots of political parties. Dozens of them.
  • Some South American countries require people to vote. Where voting is required, people who don't want to vote are allowed to cast "null ballots".
  • Elections are held on Sundays. Public transit is free on election days.
  • The government controls oil production; money made from oil production pays for the country's social programs.
    In the US, oil companies lease land or buy mineral rights, do the drilling, and keep the profits. In Venezuelan, a company that wants to produce oil has to partner with the government. The government will always maintain at least a 51% interest in the product. The government is an active (and controlling) participant, which allows the government to keep most of the profits.
  • Venezuela has been trying to improve domestic food production. The majority of productive land is owned by 5% of the country -- wealthy land owners. The wealthy land owners were not using the land to produce food, so the government expropriated it, and made it available for small farmers to use. The wealthy land owners have not taken kindly to this, and they've responded by intimidating and killing small farmers. To date, over 300 farmers have been murdered. This is an outrage, and it's been largely ignored by the world media.
  • 50% of agricultural production is pesticide-free.
  • In the last election, Chavez won 22 out of 24 Venezuelan states.
  • Venezuela has a Gini coefficient of 0.39. This means they have a low level of inequality; the lowest level of inequality in South America.


Subject line is reference to celebrated address by John Winthrop to Puritans, 1630-- (which was in turn taken from the Sermon on the Mount, J. Christ, 28 C. E.)   "We must be like a City on the Hill, the eyes of the world will be upon us... we must love one with a pure heart...we must bear one another's burdens... delight in each other...rejoice together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, always having before our eyes our {com}mission and Community... Be  {not}  seduced and worship other Gods--our pleasures and profits.... {or} we shall surely perish out of this good land... {paraph. and elision by Joe C}
Winthrop was right-- we became and still are a city on a hill, but how proud are we of what the world sees when they look at us? Look at the list of points above-- there was a time when America was admired for its social mobilty and equality; when we were at the front of a democracy wave; when Americans were proud of the soundness and transparancy of their political process; when political dialogue was as free here as anywhere, when major political parties  could be born, live a "natural" lifespan, and die when they became irrelevant or empty. Are mainstream Americans still too proud of their country to admit that some nations they have scarcely heard of have "stolen a march" on us?--beating us at a game we basically invented? Judging from Steve's list, Venezuela is one of them, and tho the MSM predicted Chavez's "last hurrah", the overwelming majority of Venezuelans think he is on the right track.
What to do, America? Get back in the game! We too could have a simple, reliable, transparant election process. { Q; why are American elections on Tuesdays? Because Wed was a market day, Sun for God, Mon. for travel to the county seat to vote.... 200 years ago!!} We could have true multi-party democracy where parties stand for something, rather than the present  2 party "duopoly".  We too could require rescource extracting corporations to give the value of half of what they extract to the people. Maybe if we get those things underway, we might be able to get more than half of eligible Americans to vote {the rate was 80% in 1828}, and if there is a leader behind these things, there might be an American president with something approaching the popularity of Chavez in Venezuela...
My favorite "forgotten American hero," Sen.  Carl Schurz, { German revolutionary democrat, poltical refugee in US, Union general, anti-imperialist,  "conscience of the Republican Pary"} was the author of this often edited quote:  "My country, right or wrong. When right- to be kept right. When wrong-- to be put right."
Still fits. Not too late to be put right.