Chavez loyalists ‘feel a void’ at former leader’s hallmark polling place
AFP – In every election, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez sent crowds into a frenzy when he cast his ballot at the same school in a poor neighborhood of Caracas, but on Sunday it was a scene of mournful calm.
As they voted to choose the late leftist leader’s successor in the January 23 barrio, voters lamented the absence of their larger-than-life hero, who dominated Venezuelan politics for 14 years.
“We would see him often, people would get crazy. Today, we feel a void,” Moriluz Morilla, 59, said as she stood in line with her 60-year-old sister Migdalia outside the Manual Palacio Fajardo school.
“We would come at the hour that the president would be here, because we wanted to see him. I feel sad, like something’s missing. He helped us a lot,” Migdalia said with tears in her eyes behind red-framed glasses.
Chavez, who died last month aged 58, was laid to rest in a marble tomb not far from the school, in an old military barracks perched on a hill where the former paratrooper plotted a failed coup in February 1992.
The January 23 barrio is known as a bastion of Chavez support, a hotbed of activist groups loyal to the man who was revered by the poor for the oil-funded socialist revolution that divided the nation.
More than 3,700 people are registered to vote at the school, where a mural of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar towers over the playground. Posters and pictures of Chavez are all over the three-story building’s walls.
This time, they are choosing between Chavez’s handpicked successor, acting President Nicolas Maduro, and opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
A guard remembered that Chavez would always vote around midday, but today fewer voters seem to be there.
“Today’s calm is nothing like the commotion that took place when people waited for him,” the guard said, refusing to give his name.
As people stood in line, Chavez’s voice boomed from a loudspeaker mounted on a car, singing a patriotic song. The recording included his address to the nation in December, when he urged voters to elect Maduro if cancer ended his presidency.
“There is no doubt that we will win, in his memory,” said Reyna Brizuela, a secretary at the Central University of Venezuela wearing a white shirt with the phrase: “I love Venezuela.”
Many Chavistas said they were voting for Maduro to fulfill the president’s dying wish. The phrase “Chavez, I swear, my vote is for Maduro” is spray-painted on many walls in the capital.
“The commitment to the revolution is very strong,” said Denis Oropeza, 33, a museum employee. “The people will massively go out and vote to defend his legacy.”