How Aussies are fighting to topple an el loco despot
I am a Venezuelan-born Australian who’s been living in this great country for almost eight years. In my time here I have very much embraced our great lifestyle and laid-back attitude.
As many other Venezuelans here I find myself living the ‘Australian dream’ and have become so Australian that sometimes I even have the odd ‘whinge’ about things here like an imperfect public transport and even government taxation, even though some of these would seem quite pedestrian when compared with what’s going on back in my country of birth.
But this month I have what could be my last chance to make Venezuela a place of only petty problems, much like Australia may seem.
On Sunday, October 7th 2012, Venezuela, a country of just under 30 million people, located at the top of the South American continent, will hold a general presidential election. The successful candidate will only hold the position for a 6-year term but this election will in fact determine the fate of the country for the next 50 years.
Incumbent President, Hugo Chavez, is a former army commander who led a failed military coup in 1992 against the democratically elected government of the time. He briefly served jail time for his actions before receiving a pardon and, in a bizarre turn of events that only seems possible in a third world country, went on to run for and win the 1998 election by a landslide. After 14 years in power he is seeking his second re-election to impose his Cuban-style “socialist, Bolivarian revolution”.
During Chavez’s rule, Venezuelans have seen their country collapse with horrific street violence, a dramatic rise in murder rates, astronomical inflation rates, blatant corruption and mishandling of public funds, the destruction of an oil and gas industry that was once the envy of the world, and the collapse of the national power grid and utilities to a point where blackouts have become part of the daily routine.
Henrique Capriles Radonski, “el flaco” or the “slim one”, as he’s affectionately known within Venezuela’s opposition, is a young, energetic and charismatic politician (and most importantly, a civilian) who has not only diminished fears about the secrecy of the vote, but also challenged Chavez’s iron-fist rule and actual chances of continuing in power.
After serving terms in Congress, then as Mayor of a large area of “Greater Caracas” and most recently Governor of one of Venezuela’s largest states, Capriles has shown a rather refreshing style of leadership with inclusion, justice and reconciliation as the main priorities, which has suddenly resurrected a sense of hope in Venezuelans, home and abroad.
Venezuelans have had to face and live an incredibly sad division amongst themselves, where, thanks to Chavez’s ideological warfare, even families have been torn apart, forced to “take sides” with one or the other. You either support the “comandante” or you are an “escualido” (Spanish for squalid), one of the many derogatory terms Chavez has introduced to refer to his opponents, so as to suggest they are worthless.
Twelve thousand kilometres away in Australia, the lucky country, a growing population of immigrants from Venezuela, thousands of them, live their lives as most Australians. They go shopping, have picnics, own houses and businesses, have babies, watch the footy in the winter and the cricket in the summer, go skiing in Victoria, NSW or even NZ. They contribute to the economy with their hard work.
Like so many immigrants from other countries, they have come to Australia to develop their careers, to have families in a safe environment, to stop worrying everyday about whether they will make it back home alive after a day’s work.
They just want to be able to work knowing their political affiliations won’t result in them being fired or worse still, blacklisted. Many, like me, were amongst 22 thousand people fired and blacklisted in 2003 from Venezuela’s state owned oil and gas company just for showing dissent against the government. I was 26 years old at the time.
Of course, they hang out together a lot, go to birthday parties, have barbecues and dinners featuring Venezuelan food, tell stories and smile about the “good old days”, mix up stories of home with stories of trips to the wineries in SA, the Great Barrier Reef in QLD, New Year’s in Sydney and that road trip to Uluru.
All too often though the smiles are erased by the news of friends or relatives back home who were mugged, kidnapped, lost their job or even worse, murdered over a pair of shoes. They don’t stop thinking about home for a day; they continue to suffer for friends and family.
The outcome of the coming election probably won’t change the lifestyle of the many Venezuelans living in Australia, but there is one thing they can still do for their birth country and loved ones: VOTE!
Almost 1000 Venezuelans from all over Australia will be lining up at the tiny Venezuelan embassy in Canberra first thing Sunday 7th October. They may have to wait all day, just like we used to back home (last time I voted I lined up at my old high school for nine hours before I could vote!), to cast their vote and make a difference.
There are about 20 million registered voters in Venezuela, so one thousand might sound like small potatoes, particularly in Australia where, unlike Venezuela, voting is compulsory, but every single vote matters.
They’ll be together, making a difference like so many other Venezuelans all over the planet, contributing from afar to a better place for their loved ones, one they can all be proud of.
The fight for democracy and freedom never stops, and it will always go the distance. One vote at a time they will be there, fighting.
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