The state of Barinas, from the cradle of Chávez to the grave of Chavismo
Shortly after 6 p.m. on Sunday, January 9, almost all polling stations in the state of Barinas, in southern Venezuela, began to close. After 9:30 p.m., the government candidate, Jorge Arreaza, a man closely linked to the leadership of the regime, telephoned his main rival, the opposition Sergio Garridoand conceded defeat. Before hanging up, he wished her: «God bless you!” A few minutes later, he posted on his Twitter account: “Barinas dear. The information we receive from our structures of the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) indicates that, although we increased in voting, we have not achieved the objective. I sincerely thank our heroic
militancy. We will continue to protect the Barinese people from all areas.”
Arreaza’s reaction was an unprecedented event in the electoral history of Chavismo in Venezuela. Appointed Vice President of the Republic by Maduro, a position he held between April 2013 and January 2016, Arreaza was also Foreign Minister, Minister of Science and Technology, Mining Development and Industries, and National Production. He was married to Hugo Chávez’s eldest daughter, Rosa Virginia.
A month and a half earlier, on November 21, a very close result in the Barinas regional elections had given victory to the main opposition candidate, Freddy Superlano, who had surpassed the official candidate by 130 votes, Argenis Chavez, brother of the late president and governor of that state. However, a high-ranking leader of Plan República (a military deployment carried out during the elections) withheld the minutes of a section of the municipality and prevented the Regional Electoral Board from completing the count and declaring the winner. The Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) demanded that the minutes be sent to Caracas, annulled the elections and ordered the repetition of the appointment at the polls for January 9.
Those facts show the importance of winning in Barinas for chavismo, a state that is considered the cradle of the Bolivarian revolution because the small town of Sabaneta is located there, where Chávez was born and lived.
Participate last minute
Opposition leaders such as Juan Guaidó, Leopoldo López, Henry Ramos and other important leaders doubted whether or not to attend the 21-N elections. One sector had aligned itself with the regime’s demands and had participated in the parliamentary elections in December 2020, which were not recognized by the opposition majority and in which they registered 70 percent abstention. Some dissidents were assigned initials of the main parties, generating divisions.
At the last minute and due to pressure from the bases, the leaders of the main parties agreed to participate with the initials of the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), accepted by the National Electoral Council (CNE), in which two opposition representatives entered. However, the call to participate from the main opposition parties remained ambiguous. This late entry and deepening divisions allowed the ruling party will win 19 of the 23 states, with the surprise of losing in the cradle of Chavez.
Hence, the struggle to maintain that territory on 9-E was vital for Chavismo. Barinas was in November 1998 the first regional government won by the PSUV with Hugo de los Reyes Chavez, a month before his son, Hugo Chávez, was elected president. In the last eight years, the ruling party has lost about four million votes. In Barinas, the reduction in voters from 2017 to the 21-N elections has been around 60,000 voters.
The polling station of the Simón Bolívar educational center in Alto Barinas, the state capital, opened its doors very early on January 9. Unlike other elections, all the table representatives, witnesses and volunteers were present. One of its members commented to this newspaper that, despite the doubts about the transparency of the process, in this campaign they had begun to perceive change expectations in the barinese town.
One of the first to go to the center was a 60-year-old woman who, on her way to the voting table, stood in front of her, took the ballot issued by the machine, remained silent for a few seconds with her eyes closed and pronounced an almost imperceptible sentence. made the sign of the cross, looked at the sky and deposited his vote in the ballot box. The members of the table looked at her in silence and followed her with their eyes until she left the room. The voter’s gesture suggested a change, a hope, a conviction more based on faith than on politics.
The immense deployment of resources that the regime made on 9-E reminded us of how vital it was to win for the ruling party. Hundreds of buses went looking for voters who no longer lived in Barinas. Trucks loaded with refrigerators and appliances They began to distribute these products among people close to Chavismo to motivate their participation and counteract discontent. The military and police deployment, with helicopters and Army planes flying over the region, accompanied the operations in the popular neighborhoods, in which bags of chicken and mortadella were delivered. The entire high command of the party, the high officials and even two of Chávez’s daughters, María Gabriela and Rosinés, went there to support Arreaza in the campaign.
The contestation of the elections of 21-N, which was won by the opponent Freddy Superlano, could have generated an adverse reaction from the opponents, as has happened on other occasions. But this time the answer was different: instead of retreating, people were inclined to participate. Barin testimonies highlight that many people who had not voted on 21-N did vote on 9-E. According Zuleima Áñez, a domestic worker who lives in a popular neighborhood in the capital of Barinas, people said: “This time I am going.” Yoset Calet Perez, who worked as a member of the electoral command of the winning candidate, Sergio Garrido, explains that “although there was fear and doubt, there was also anger in the people.” “The work of the campaign command was much more efficient and organized this time,” he says. The result was that the opposition candidate obtained almost 70,000 more votes than on 21-N.
The Chávez family has had Sabaneta as a stronghold, located northeast of Barinas. It has been the symbol of the revolution. The image of a humble man promoted by the soldier himself with the stories of a simple childhood has as its emblem the small house where he was raised by his paternal grandmother, Rosa Inés. Although that symbol remains on a street in the town, the ‘eternal commander’ and his heirs built their new shelters in luxurious estates such as La Chavera, La Martinera, Santa Lucía, or La Malagueña, and some expropriated by the regime.
In Sabaneta, the expectations of the people to achieve a better life were declining with each year of Chavismo. The municipality was also governed by another brother of the Chávez family, Aníbal. Deteriorated streets, overflowing sewers, businesses that have closed, people without work and desolation contrast with walls upholstered with the face of Chávez and a large statue with its left fist raised.
The Chavez dynasty it has also generated conflicts between brothers and nephews in the dispute for power. Argenis, the losing candidate on 21-N, resigned after those elections and was withdrawn as a candidate on party orders.
As the symbol of the revolution, the state of Barinas was assigned important works for its development. Of a dozen major projects, seven were never completed. In the last fifteen years, approved about 7,500 million dollars to carry out these works. Among them, they highlighted a petrochemical and agro-industrial complex, an airport, a refinery, an oil pipeline, a hospital and various infrastructures. In some of these works there is only the first stone and the poster with the smiling face of the commander announcing the project in the midst of rubble and bushes.
a great lab
Barinas was the region where the socialist policies of expropriation and nationalization. Data compiled by the Barinas Producers Association indicates that 514 productive farms were invaded between 2002 and 2019. That figure is equivalent to 710,130 hectares, 23 percent of the agricultural area. In recent months, 50 new invasions have been registered and the affected hectares are 800,000. Farmers complain about insecurity. Armed groups and guerrillas form part of militias. The shortage of gasoline and diesel has become a source of permanent conflict, resources that are now handled by mafias linked to local governments.
Producers consulted point out that, since the uncertainty caused by the elections of last 21-N began, agricultural and livestock trade has been paralyzed, deepening the economic crisis that already hit the region. Now they hope that the new government will restore free production, that the mafias will be reduced and that the invasions will end.
The faith in possible change has conquered the people of Barin and their triumph has generated hope in all Venezuela, which has made a large part of the political sector reflect. This is how analysts, academics and communicators interpret it, who seek to decipher what awaits the punished country in the coming years.