We have just attended another enlightened journey, with an important lesson of what it is to experience a participatory democracy, which the people of Venezuela have shared with us. I have been working with Venezuelan churches for over four decades, particularly with the Venezuelan Evangelical Pentecostal Union (Unión Evangélica Pentecostal Venezolana), and have observed various electoral processes in Venezuela. In this opportunity, I participated as an international electoral observer in the state of Zulia, recognized by the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral de Venezuela).
The regional elections process, ending last November 23rd, was a reaffirmation of the Venezuelan democracy for various reasons. First, the political and civil will of the Venezuelan population has been proven one more time. The political culture and maturity that the Venezuelans showed on November 23rd was an unforgettable experience. I could see young pregnant women, elders and sick people coming with papers in hand ready to vote. At the Negra Hipólita Initial Education Center (Centro de Educación Inicial Negra Hipólita), in which I was an electoral observer, I had conversations with various individuals that clearly and unequivocally wanted to exercise their right to being counted and heard. An elderly woman that wanted to get to this voting center confirmed without a doubt: "Sir, I come to vote as sick as I am, maybe for the last time. Tell the rest of the world that we live in democracy". Her bright eyes showed happiness and satisfaction.
When asking a few young men about different political tendencies (one of them affirmed "being from the opposition"), all confirmed their satisfaction in voting, some of them for the first time. At the Negra Hipólita Center were gathered some very young electoral witnesses and functionaries. The two persons in charge of operating the fingerprint machine (where the identity and eligibility to vote were verified) were very young, but mastered the procedures. When the machine failed for a few minutes, the young lady that tried to fix the system showed aplomb and persistency, and rapidly called from her mobile for assistance. In a few minutes, another young man, more experienced in handling the fingerprint machine, came to help. When telling the young lady I have seen her sweating, she said: "I am exhausted, but most importantly is to keep the system running and not bother people more than is necessary". Another young lady sat by me when the voting machine failed and was necessary to replace it, and said: "We wait patiently; the important thing is to complete the electoral process with transparency."
The regional elections in Venezuela took place in a tense climate and confrontations among the diverse political tendencies involved in the process. Remember that, in a lot of places, there were small political parties and local leaders registered as candidates. There is no doubt that the PSUV (Venezuelan United Socialist Party), presided by Hugo Chávez, has demonstrated to be the most solid and organized political force, achieving the consolidation as the principal political party regionally and nationally in a short period of time. The role of the media is also a factor with negative impact. The majority of press and television demonstrate a militant political behavior in detriment of professional journalism. They behave clearly as political parties aligned with conservative sectors to create a disorienting and hysterical climate not very helpful to the social coexistence.
There is a vital important factor to the writer of these pages, as pastor and theologian: the participation of evangelical churches in the political life of Venezuela. It is a secret to no one that in Latin America and the Caribbean we have experienced a radical change in reference to the political involvement of evangelical believers. In the past, a blunt separation between faith and political ideology was kept. There has been a notable change and evangelicals today actively participate in politics and political parties as is noted in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Perú, Ecuador and Venezuela. In Venezuela, evangelical leaders are active in politics and some pastors and publicly recognized leaders have been candidates for elective posts. So is the case of Geremías Colmenares, member of the Venezuelan Evangelical Pentecostal Union, who was elected, with a large margin, as mayor of Ospino, a state of Portuguesa. Other leaders are founding members of the PSUV and other political parties. It is confirmed that evangelical leaders can participate in political processes from within their faith and keep, not only their evangelical identity, but their willingness to serve the people. Hopefully, an ethical level of responsibility and dignity will be maintained.
Which are some of the elements that, in my perspective, could be highlighted in the light of the electoral process?
After ten years in power, President Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian revolution have been able to maintain a level of remarkable electoral and political force. That amount of years in any government would have a political cost and wear, much more when the confrontation with the opposition has been so high in Venezuela. Hugo Chávez keeps a surprising popularity using his charisma and political astuteness. However, Hugo Chávez faces important challenges from the political-administrative efficiency of his government to the corruption at various levels. This takes place in any government, and is not surprising, but the insistence of President Hugo Chávez that the Bolivarian revolution is different and transparent at an ethical level in government, puts pressure in his leadership. Note the expressions of some citizens (including members of the PSUV) about the need for a more shared and collegiate leadership at national level to form and train relay leaders inside the same Bolivarian revolution.
There is an aspect affecting the result of the regional elections, especially in urban zones like Caracas and Maracaibo. There is obviously an important bourgeois sector opposed to president Chávez and his Bolivarian revolution that favored opposition leaders. However, there is also worry among all population sectors of the cities about the public integrity and organized crime. In one hand, there is admiration for "missions" in healthcare, education, housing and endogenous development. On the other hand, there is worry for civil protection and vulnerability in a climate of insecurity that attacks life and its values. This is a serious challenge in the immediate future for the Bolivarian revolution.
The president Hugo Chávez has constantly manifested that the Bolivarian revolution "deepens" in the light of the regional elections results. It looks like there is a challenge that goes beyond numerical results and raises a discussion on "XXI century socialism" and to where the broad project of the Bolivarian revolution is heading. This ideological discussion, and the possible struggle and confrontation it could generate, even inside its own political party and alliances with other political awnings will be inevitable. The ideological clarity and political creativity will be important signs that would confirm the charisma of Hugo Chávez and the viability of the Bolivarian revolution in the future. Winning elections will not be sufficient, as they are part of a more broad and profound process.
There is one more aspect to underline. The myth of a negative and reactionary religious factor in political ideology and participation has been broken. The broad political participation of evangelical sectors in the regional elections in Venezuela and the visibility of evangelical leaders in PSUV and other political parties confirm a defiant change in political evangelical ethics. The Bolivarian revolution should read the signs of the times and elaborate a more coherent strategy, with less cronyism, when dealing with these sectors. Churches should equip its members of a more coherent and clear political ethic and public participation as public servers. The way the power, its mechanisms, structures, manifestations and complexities is understood will be crucial. Good will and honesty is not enough. A naïve theology with magical conceptions about divine presence and its favors will not help either. There should be knowledge and understanding of the game rules and development in the political arena. There are lessons to learn in an inedited participation for evangelicals in Venezuela.
At the end of this journey, we are left with the impression that the price is more positive than negative, and that the learned lessons should be pondered and analyzed in order to advance. Venezuelans have already given us important lessons reaffirming its democracy. Let's wait for reaffirmation toward justice, peace and dignity that would always make of Venezuela a "courageous country." So we pray and hope.
Carmelo Alvarez serves as a missionary affiliate appointed by the Common Global Ministries Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ to serve with the Latin American Evangelical Pentecostal Commission (CEPLA) and the Evangelical Pentecostal Union of Venezuela (UEPV) based in Chicago, Illinois. He serves as program consultant and visiting professor for the Latin American Pentecostal Commission (CEPLA) and the Evangelical Pentecostal Union of Venezuela (UEPV).