Tag Archives: Venezuela

Recuperation (Recovery) of Public Spaces in Venezuela

One of the things we in the left and international media rarely talk about is recuperation of spaces. We had two separate days on this matter on how recuperated public spaces in one municipality in Caracas. Recuperation in Venezuelan plazas, theaters and parks are done holistically and with close consultation with the communities (including people in the barrios).

LIBERTADOR MUNICIPALITY

We, the brigadistas met the Libertador Mayor’s Office representatives to get a good understanding of the implementation of recuperated public spaces. We were accompanied by architects and urban planners who were involved in this grand scheme. The current push of recuperation of public spaces is not merely restoring the glories of the original spaces but creating new spaces for the communities.  For example, identifying gaps within communities such as lack of sports centres.

For this part of city travel, we were shown areas where spaces are restored to former glory. Just outside the Libertador Mayor’s Office lies Venezuela most important square – Plaza Bolivar. Once a dangerous place, today it is fully recovered and a hub of many activities (listening to speeches or just enjoying the company of people). We even saw the Plaza being crowded with people after 8 pm and surprisingly it was safe. Another example was Plaza Diego Ibarra, plaza just in front of Election Commission building (CNE). Once a place of informal markets and insecurity, today the space is clean and host music festivals (the time we traveled, Caracas was hosting Suena Caracas – week long music festival).

Simon Bolivar Statue at the centre of Plaza Bolivar

Simon Bolivar Statue at the centre of Plaza Bolivar

In Caracas, there is a famous Municipal theater and it is great example of  recuperated public spaces. Built in late 1800s, under President Guzman Blanco, it mimicked the glories of European culture and a centre of perfromances. Over the years, the theatre has grown and shrunk and had good and bad times. However, at one point, theatre became a warehouse for street sellers and the its own glory is not being respected. This municipality organized a rescue and today, it is centre of performances and political meetings for the government. The beauty and past glory has been restored to this theatre

Parque El Calvario is located on hilly area and provide a good respite from the chaos and busyness of Caracas. It was once a private estate of rich person and the park structures are designed to European influence of the heydays in Venezuela. Over time, this park got neglected and became dangerous area. Criminals use the park as a transit from the city to the surrounding barrios to run away from the police. Hence, no one dares to go to this dilapidated park. Being a public space potential, the municipality organized a rescue of the park and its former glory has been fully restored. The park has huge entrance arch, hidden aqueduct and fully restored gazebo. This park today has 50-60 tree species and centre of many activities. A mini manual bus takes visitors from the base to the park centre. The winding roads and other lookout point give vistitors very good views of Caracas. While the initial focus of the park was towards European culture, one of the statues found in the park displayed Indigenous resistance leader. (Current Venezuelan government making initatives to includes the role of Indigenous people in society – historically they were excluded)

Famous Indigenous warrior of Venezuela at Parque El Calvario

Famous Indigenous warrior of Venezuela at Parque El Calvario

The view from El Calvario. These two main buildings at centre are known Towers of Silence. One of them host the Election Commission (CNE)

The view from El Calvario. These two main buildings at centre are known Towers of Silence. One of them host the Election Commission (CNE)

Up to 5th December 2014, there are 70 ongoing recuperation public space projects in Libertador. Recently, Caracas manage to recover 1.2 million square metres of public spaces, that is literally half of the size of Libertador municipality.

TIUNA EL FUERTE

Tiuna El Fuerte is a name play of the nearby military barracks of Fuerte Tiuna. It was a former parking lot, sandwiched by two roads and close to rough barrios ( neighborhood) in southern Caracas.

The community nearby felt that they want to transform this parking lot as center of culture. (I shall put a YouTube link to understand the context). They used abandoned shipping containers to transform the area. Today, the containers are home to the offices, music studio and tattoo studio.

Young Chavez artwork at Tiuna El Fuerte

Young Chavez artwork at Tiuna El Fuerte

The containers and some walls are fully painted with graffitis – expression of creativity of the artists of the barrio and elsewhere. Even the toilets are housed in the containers and fully painted with graffiti- yes even the urinal bowls

They modified some areas to have ‘underground’ amphitheater and multi level seating areas to watch shows.

Shipping Containers converted to centres of learning in Tiuna El Fuerte

Shipping Containers converted to centres of learning in Tiuna El Fuerte

In some containers, we saw people doing graphic design for clothing production. This Cultural Park – Tiuna El Fuerte- is home to many musical shows, performances, centers of learning (i.e. rap)and political planning. There are many collectives who have many specialities which bring life to area. Since everything us done collectively here, they have a room dedicated to a general Assembly where decisions are made for the park. Since Venezuela is transitioning from representative to participatory democracy, communities around park has communal councils- local democracy. The park has made available the containers for communal councils to hold meetings

Artwork Example at Tiuna El Fuerte

Artwork Example at Tiuna El Fuerte

Since it us hot and humid in Caracas, shipping containers are not ideal place to be in. They modified most of the interiors of the containers to have utility connections, computers and air conditioning. However, they have embarked the process of making the park ecologically friendly place. They have a small urban agriculture – planting various vegetables. Not only that, this also provides clean air in polluted city. They have explored of adding plants across the containers to cool down the interiors. The plan is to do away with air conditioners.

We visited a music studio and met one of the founders of the Tiuna El Fuerte. He showed the transformed container to a decent music studio. It was built donations from private company and others. It provides opportunity to poor people to access previously excluded music recording services. They only charge 1/6 of the market price of usage of the studio!

People working there has mentioned us that they want to be self sufficient in managing the park and not dependent on the government. The Chavista municipality do support initiative. To do so, they sell their own clothes- with in house graphic design, concert tickets etc. However, I want to stress something important.

This is Not Profit Driven institution. The monies from own works in the park and donations here are meant to sustain the park. I give you an example. Not only they do in house graphic design, the park graphic designers actively educate the outside community in how to do graphic design and make own clothes. It is breaking the logic of patents and copyrights.

There are couple of challenges. First, the land status of the property. They are working towards to a complete title deed of the property. Secondly, threat of Metropolitan Mayor. Caracas has 4-5 municipalities and Metropolitan Mayor oversee the five municipalities. It just happened the position is held by opposition. The Opposition Mayor wanted to kick off the Park and the project and replace with a Supermarket.

The community took over the Metropolitan Mayor office and painted the graffiti over the building. The Mayor backed off and did not touch them since. Hence, the need of complete title is important to avoid this eviction style issue in future.

All in all, I realize the importance of defending the revolution. The revolution makes these projects possible.

Some of the photos are credited to one of our brigadista

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Venezuelan Election Commission

Upon my arrival in Caracas, I did mention brigade leader that I am very much focused on elections. He told me there is a surprise which he reveal later. Something beyond I thought of: to meet CNE President Tibisay Lucena.

The night before we met her, we received a quick briefing on her role and personal life. She could be considered to be the most powerful woman in Venezuela as she is presiding an institution that determines the fate of the country. Despite a powerful role, she is very easy going and down to earth

The day came and we headed to CNE headquarters. It was housed in 1970s building and underneath it, a mini shopping center that reminded me of Komtar in Penang. Due to controversies associated with CNE and physical attacks on Dr Tibisay (yes Venezuela is quite violent on politics), CNE HQ had tight security with airport scanners deployed.

CNE HQ

As we were an international delegation, Dr Tibisay wanted to meet us personally rather sending a representative. While we were waiting, we were served with drinks in modern meeting room by professional kitchen staff. We were introduced to some contacts in CNE meanwhile.

Finally, Dr Tibisay came to her office as traffic delayed her big time. What I was surprised was she was wearing casual clothes to meet an international delegation like us. Unlike other countries, Election Commission (CNE) is an INDEPENDENT branch of government (Venezuela has 5 branches of government). It was created in 1999 when the new constitution was approved and replacing fraudulent and corrupt CSE , the older commission. CNE is composed by 5 to people including Dr Tibisay – the President. The candidates were nominated by civil society groups, university and Citizen branch (e.g. Attorney General) Subsequently, they must be approved by the National Assembly- the Parliament of Venezuela. Strictly independent, I heard 2 out 5 have an opposition slant and remaining have government slant. The fact that Venezuela has totally separate branch for Election Commission has prompted other Latin America to do likewise.

When the new Constitution (1999), a lot of Venezuelans were out of electoral roll and hence excluded from the democracy. CNE made huge strides in voter inclusion where they made every possible attempt to connect with voters. To ensure equality of voting accessibility, each polling district would not have more than 600 voters. Each voting center should be at max of 1 km from residences (this became a massive logistic issue when it came to areas of wetlands, mountains and forests). Previously, it was possible to have a voting centre 46 kilometres from the voters. They have stepped the number of polling tables across the country.

Secondly, CNE made voting system super Secure- I really mean Super Secure. I was informed that Venezuela has 17-18 audit or security checks for elections. Political parties from both spectrums and international observers have full rights and access to implementation of security checks. Venezuela, may as well has the highest random auditing system for ballot check. Since all Venezuelan Elections is DIGITAL, 40 to 50% of votes are randomly checked to match the proper outcomes. CNE and political parties audit the electoral machines.  If one political party wants to modify the auditing system, it must sought cooperation and agreement of EACH political party in Venezuela.  As mentioned previously, voting in Venezuela is done digitally. Hence, biometric scanning is used to unlock the voting machines during voting. However, this becomes an issue for people who have their fingerprints not easily deciphered (i.e. fishermen) or do not have fingers. The biometric scanning is modified to verify based on lower number of points on fingerprints. For those who do not have fingers, the President of Polling table is authorized to unlock the machines. (On a side note, if the President made three errors to unlock the machine, the alarm would ring and CNE would be notified on this matter)

In terms of logistics, handling Venezuela elections is a mammoth task. CNE have to spend a lot of resources in developing and designing software solutions for political candidates. Secondly, prior to elections, they have constant outreach to voters. During my stay in Caracas, I have seen two registration booths in train station and the square (Plaza).
Plus, they have software to count minutes of political ads on television. During election time, they have to deploy Electronic machines to all parts of the country (including the Amazon) . I heard that the voting machines were sent on DONKEYS, boats, helicopters and planes. (On a side note, since they head to remote areas, they work with government agencies to provide government services like vaccinations). In terms of voting results, transmission is done through secure lines such as internet and satellites. Considering around 80% voter participation, they have fast release of results in few hours time.

Beyond constitutional elections, CNE provide services to trade unions, political parties (including opposition ones) and communal councils ( participatory democracy at local levels). CNE provide the technical knowhow and other logistical advice needed for election. The day we visited Dr Tibisay, CNE workers were having their own trade union elections.

I asked her why Venezuela has so many elections in the past 19 years. I think they have around 18 elections- I need to check. This is because the presidential, governor, legislature and mayor terms are all different. Bear in mind, Venezuela experienced an electoral decentralization since 1989. Dr Tibisay gives her personal phone numbers to political parties rep to handle issues directly. She had to organize a way to rescue a candidate in bathroom lockout in rural state of Guarico, hundreds of miles away!

We were informed of the nature of international observation  group. The composition must include people from all spectrums and religions. Candidates for this group must be nominated by institution.

I am keen to sign up, there is one coming up next year. All in all, if there is one thing I fully trust in Venezuela, it would be CNE. I am inspired by the efforts made by CNE to uphold the constitutional voting rights of all Venezuelans

Additional Information:

International Delegation Report on 2009 referendum

Carter Centre Report on CNE and Venezuelan Election System

Summary of Election process and auditing

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Three events that shook Venezuelan pacted democracy: Conclusion

Part IV: Perez’s Impeachment and where is CAP now?

After these two coups, CAP lost the support of his party members, AD. His opponents began their campaign to discredit CAP by specifically focusing on mismanagement of ‘partida secreta’ funds (presidential discretionary funds). La Causa R and Jose Vicente Rangel (future VP under Chavez)-journalist- joined this campaign by denouncing on CAP, minister of secretariat to the president and minister of interior relations on the funds issue. Soon, private sectors, COPEI, mass media and even members of AD joined this campaign. Perez and his supporters claimed the money ($17 million) were utilized to support Nicaraguan electoral process in 1990. At the end of 1992, a request of trial was submitted to Supreme Court. Ramon Escobar Salom (public prosecutor) presented the mismanagement of funds to the Supreme Court on 20th March 1993. By May, Supreme Court ordered a trial against CAP and partners. On 21st May 1993, CAP was suspended from office (as Venezuelan Congress voted for suspension). Supreme Court proceeded to prosecute him. Octavio Lepage took over the presidency till 5th June. He was later succeeded by Ramon Jose Velasquez (historian). On 31st August 1993, CAP was barred from returning to office as the Congress voted on it even if he is not guilty (after failure of Perez of refusing to step down.) It is the first time in Venezuelan history that the president got impeached from power. He was not found guilty for the embezzlement charges but convicted for misuse of public funds by the Supreme Court in May 1996. He was placed house arrest (28 months –first 10 weeks in Caracas jail) but this did not deter him coming back to politics. CAP created his own party Apertura and ran for Senate seat in native Táchira state (though under house arrest). In April 1998, CAP and his mistress were charged of placing deposits in US bank more than exceed public salary wage. He won the Senate elections in November 1998 and he received immunity. Supreme Court ended his house arrest and clear the charges on him (He got Senator’s immunity). However, time was short for him (From exile in Florida, Perez claimed Chavez would not last a year in the office of presidency).

Once Chavez was elected in 1998, a new constitution was drawn up to replace the 1961 constitution. This Constitution dissolved the Senate and replaced with National Assembly (unicameral legislature). In 1999, he decided to run again from his native Táchira but lost the seat. This cost his immunity. He first moved to Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) and later rotated between his homes in Miami, New York and Dominican Republic. In 2001, Venezuelan prosecutors charged CAP of breaking Venezuelan law whereby legislators need to declare their assets upon entry and exiting their public service career (he failed to disclose the bank accounts).  CAP claimed this amounted to political persecution and later became fervent opponent of Chavez. In 2002, Venezuela requested his formal extradition back to Venezuela. In 2003, Venezuelan suspended ties with Dominican Republic till latter investigates CAP conspiracy to overthrow Chavez (CAP made such comments when he was exile there). Later, he was forced to exile to U.S. On 21st October 2003, he suffered stroke which partially disabling him. In May 2004, his former house (held by his previous wife) was searched by Venezuela authorities during anti-paramilitary raid. His reaction (from Miami) was “We were expecting this because we know that there rule of law does not prevail in Venezuela,”. He claimed violence was necessary to oust Chavez and stated the raid was form of Chavez’s plan of distracting Venezuelans. In July 2004 (prior to recall referendum on Chavez), during interview with Venezuelan daily, CAP acknowledged that he is “working to remove Chavez”. He added, “Violence will allow us to remove him” and “he (Chavez) must die like a dog, because he deserves it”. Chavez accused CAP of plotting to assassinate him (CAP denies). In February 2005, State Prosecutor Indira Josefina Mora issued arrest warrant on CAP for his responsibility of the Caracazo crackdown (Plan Avila). In 2008, his former party (AD) announced that CAP will return to Venezuela. On 25th December 2010, Perez DIED at age 88 due to heart attack in Miami. Soon after his death, there was a row between his relatives of the place of him to be buried. His partner, Matos said she wants Perez to be buried in Miami while his estranged wife wants his body to be buried in Caracas (No updates so far whether this issue is resolved or not). On 26th December 2010, Chavez gave his mixed farewell to his deceased adversary, “May he rest in peace,” and “But with him may the form of politics that he personified rest in peace and leave here forever.

References

1) Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, Richard Gott, Verso, 2006, United States of America (pp.119-121)

2) Hugo Chavez :Oil, Politics and the Challenge to U.S., Nikolas Kozloff, 2006, Palgrave Macmillan, New York (pp.47,56)

3) The history of Venezuela, H. Michael Tarver & Julia C. Frederick, 2006, Palgrave Macmillan, New York (pp.145-146)

4) The battle of Venezuela, Michael McCaughan, Open Media & Seven Stories Press, September 2005, UK.

5) Carlos Andres Perez, Former President of Venezuela, Dies at 88, Simon Romero, New York Times (Americas), 26th December 2010,http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/27/world/americas/27perez.html?_r=1

6) Venezuela issues arrest warrant for former president  Carlos Andres Perez, Jonah Gindin, Venezuela Analysis,25th February 2005, http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/964

7)   More Anti-Government Paramilitaries Captured in Venezuela, Martin Sanchez, Venezuela Analysis, 11th May 2004,

http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/499

8)  Venezuela Suspends Oil Shipments and Withdraws Ambassador from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela Analysis, 19th Septemeber 2003,

http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/112

9) Row over Venezuelan ex-leader Perez burial rekindled, BBC News, 4th January 2011,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12116729.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:100% CREDIT FOR THE REFERENCES ABOVE. NO INFORMATION OWNED BY AUTHOR.

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