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Monday, December 6, 2021

Bloodied Venezuelan opposition returns to elections for the first time in years

UPATA, Venezuela – His opposition to Venezuela’s authoritarian leader left him bloodied by government thugs, forced him into hiding in a foreign embassy, ​​and sent him into almost two-year exile in Italy, where he sold bread at the train station, as he thought at home.

The political disobedience of Americo De Grazia also cost him his marriage and his savings. And yet he was here, in his hometown in southeastern Venezuela, sweating through his shirt sleeves onstage – one of thousands of opposition candidates running in Sunday’s elections that they will almost certainly lose.

“We live in turbulent times,” Mr. De Grazia, 61, told voters as the drums beat behind him, “and that requires us to fight.”

Political parties that oppose Venezuela’s autocratic leader Nicolas Maduro have refused to vote for years, claiming it would legitimize a man who has spent nearly a decade imprisoning enemies, detaining journalists, co-opting political parties and banning key opposition figures from leaving. from his post, all as the country fell into an economic and humanitarian crisis.

But on Sunday, the opposition will return to the ballot box, running candidates for gubernatorial and mayoral elections across the country, which they say is designed to rally a disaffected electorate ahead of upcoming presidential elections, due by law in 2024.

Conditions – although nominally better than in years past, according to the non-partisan Venezuelan Electoral Observatory – are far from free democratic, and the shift is an adventure for the opposition.

Facing both economic sanctions and an International Criminal Court investigation, Mr. Maduro is hungry for democratic legitimacy, and he will likely use the election to nudge the United States and the European Union to weaken their positions against him.

But this shift is also a sign of how desperate many Venezuelans are in what looks like an attempt at change. And Mr. De Grazia’s struggle to become governor of one of the largest states in the country is a symbol of that desperation.

“This election is not free, unfair, opaque, nothing like that,” he said over lunch the day after the rally, at which he handed out tiny slips of paper with his name, face and personal phone number – a home-grown campaign in difficult conditions. once. But “in order to defeat this regime, you must confront it.”

Bolivar, a sprawling state in southeastern Venezuela, is home to steel and aluminum mills and large deposits of gold, diamonds and coltan. Despite these resources, its people have been hit hard by the country’s economic downturn. According to the Catholic University of Andrés Bello in Caracas, ninety-five percent of the population now lives in poverty.

In Bolivar, families line up outside kitchens every day, and children regularly die of treatable and preventable conditions – malaria, hydrocephalus, malnutrition – because their parents cannot afford the medication.

In interviews in six municipalities across the state, many people said that the dollar influx, which began two years ago, following Mr Maduro’s decision to loosen the economic rules that once governed his government, has penetrated slightly beyond the richest families.

Mr. De Grazia is the son of Italian immigrants who founded a number of bakeries in Bolivar in the 1950s. The original Panadería Central store is still open across the street from the house where Mr. De Grazia lives with his mother, who runs the bakery.

He entered politics at age 14 and eventually became an outspoken critic of the government of Hugo Chávez and his successor, Mr. Maduro, who positioned themselves as champions of the socialist revolution.

Mr. De Grazia’s career has often focused on workers’ rights and corruption in the mining industry. He was a congressman for ten years and said he was beaten at least four times in the National Assembly. In the last instance, the results of which were caught on camera in 2017The men in ski masks left him bleeding out on the courtyard of the legislature.

In 2019, he supported the decision of the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, to declare himself interim president, which was supported by the United States and dozens of other countries.

Thereafter, Mr. Maduro’s government issued an order to capture Mr. De Grazia and many other opposition figures, forcing him to flee. He first went to the Italian embassy, ​​where he lived for seven months, and then to Italy, where he worked in a bakery run by one of his seven children.

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Around the same time, his wife issued an ultimatum: “Leave politics or we will disperse.” They split up. “She couldn’t take this life anymore,” he said. “This is part of the price.”

But in Italy, Mr. De Grazia became increasingly convinced that the opposition coalition he once supported had no plan to break the deadlock. He said that abstaining from the elections cut off the coalition’s contact with voters and left it virtually unarmed in the fight for fairer election conditions in 2024.

In February, he announced that he would vote this year. He left the coalition and was expelled from the party, which he joined at age 14, called Causa R. In April, he ran for governor.

A few months later, most of the coalition that rejected him announced that they would also vote. Among candidates running this year, Miranda State’s David Uzcategi called abstaining a “mistake.”

“Voting is a tool with which to fight,” he said.

Mr. De Grazia and many other opposition candidates have a limited chance of winning. In a pre-vote report, the Venezuelan Electoral Observatory said that while the government allowed a wider range of participation in these elections than in previous years, it continued to “restrict complete freedom to exercise the right to vote” in a variety of ways, including the illegal use of public funds to campaign for the ruling party.

Hundreds of political prisoners remain locked up, while many voters fear they will lose benefits if they do not vote for candidates supported by Maduro.

Opposition votes are also split among many candidates in Bolivar and elsewhere, a situation likely to help secure Mr Maduro’s victory. …

Mr. De Grazia, who has spent his savings – about $ 12,000 – on his campaign, says that even if he loses, the effort will pay off.

At a recent rally in Upata, he appeared in front of over 200 supporters, many of whom were wearing T-shirts bearing the name of his party, Ecólogico. A bouquet of sunflowers lay at the base of the stage, green balloons swayed from the rafters, and M. De Grazia dared to deliver his speech where many would not want to.

“Our main question for Maduro is: where is the gold stolen from Bolivar?” he said. “They cannot continue to take our gold, diamonds and coltan and leave us without water, without health care, without services, without transportation, without education.”

At another campaign event, 50-year-old teacher Carmelis Urbaneja said that Mr. De Grazia inspired her to run for the local office for the first time in history. “We’ve lost everything,” she said. “What else do I have to lose?”

But critics of Mr. De Grazia say his gamble is not worth it.

Among the fiercest opponents of participation is Mr. De Grazia’s former political mentor Andres Velazquez, who ran for governor of Bolivar in 2017.

According to an initial vote count posted on the website of the National Electoral Council in 2017, he won.

But the results soon faded, according to local and international media reports at the time, and then a government candidate and current governor, a general named Justo Noguera, was sworn in in an unexpected midnight ceremony.

Last year, National Electoral Councilor Juan Carlos Delpino publicly stated that the vote count had been manipulated.

Bolivar, Mr Velazquez argued, was too economically important for the government to be allowed for by an opposition candidate.

Mr Velazquez said the same election fraud could happen to Mr De Grazia – and that Mr Maduro used Mr De Grazia and all the opposition candidates involved.

“He wants to be able to tell the world, ‘Venezuela has competitive elections, and Venezuela has an opposition that can participate.’

But, according to Mr. Velazquez, “there are dictatorships that use the tools of democracy to stay in power.”

“It’s wrong for me to behave normally before the electoral process, which was manipulated in every possible way,” he said. “This is complicity.”

The report was presented by Isayen Herrera from Caracas and Maria Ramirez from Callao, Ciudad Bolivar, El Palmar, Guacipati, Puerto Ordaz and Upata, Venezuela.

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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