Venezuelan political opposition abroad

By: Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo

Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela since 1999. Photo by Bernardo Londoy

It was a cold and rainy Sunday even by London standards, but that didn’t stop 290 Venezuelan expatriates in the UK from coming together on February 12th in a central London hotel to take part in one of the most important political events in Venezuela: the first ever opposition’s primaries held abroad.

The primary saw Henrique Capriles Radonski, governor of the state of Miranda, picked to challenge President Hugo Chávez in the presidential election planned for next October.

Chávez, the left-wing president, has governed Venezuela since 1999. His successive electoral victories have caused long-term disarray for the opposition. But the political opposition is now campaigning on a unity platform, trying to mobilise Venezuelan communities abroad before the next presidential elections. Efforts have extended to the UK where there are 1,174 registered Venezuelan voters, the fifth largest concentration of voters abroad and the second largest in Europe, according to the official electoral registry.

“We had a turnout of 24.7 per cent, which is outstanding for a primary election. The participation and enthusiasm of Venezuelan voters in the UK far exceeded our expectations,” said Domingo Lapadula, president of the London Committee of the Primary Elections Abroad Commission, established by the opposition’s umbrella organisation Unified Democratic Panel (MUD).

The high participation rates were the result of long hours of community work that used traditional media and also social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, explained Lapadula.

“We contacted as many people as we possibly could. The Venenin [Spanish acronym for Venezuelans in England] Facebook group, now with more than 1,800 members, has been very useful for this task. It started out as a way of organising social gatherings, but it has become the first point of contact for Venezuelans arriving to the UK,” he explained.

Voters said they are motivated by a desire for political transformation in Venezuela.

“For me, there is a central reason for participating: I want a change in my country,” said Francisco Perez, a Venezuelan living in the UK for 10 years. Irene Caldentey, another voter, cited her “aspiration for democratic participation” as her motivation for voting.

Once the primary election has been carried out, there is now a bigger challenge, explained Lapadula.

“Many Venezuelans have arrived into the UK during the last six years, and most of them are not registered to vote here. In addition, there are sizable Venezuelan communities in places such as Manchester, Reading, Oxford, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Belfast, yet the only voting centre available is in London,” said Lapadula. “We have to work closely with the Venezuelan consular authorities in order to guarantee no one is left without the opportunity to participate”.

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