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Three representatives from trade unions in New York were among the many international observers to attend the Venezuelan National Constituent Assembly vote July 30 to monitor the election proceedings.
Estela Vazquez the executive vice president of the 1199 SEIU Health Care Workers Union East, the country's largest health care union; John Patafio the vice president of the Transport Workers Union, and Judy Gonzalez a registered nurse and president of the New York State Nurses Association were interviewed by Rosana Silva on their experiences before and after their visit to Venezuela and their thoughts on the ANC.
The three had been invited by the Venezuelan Transport Workers Union to witness the voting process and most importantly to talk to Venezuelans and just "see what's going on."
Prior to arriving in the Bolivarian state, the three were warned by American Airline’s crew members of the “dangerous” situation they were walking in to.
“We had a sort of a culture shock on the airplane,” explained Gonzales who heads the NY union that includes 40,000 members across the state. “The staff on the airplane was basically hysterical. They told us that we absolutely shouldn’t go. We should get back on the plane; don’t get off the plane. That if we stepped off the plane we’d be robbed, we’d be kidnapped, we’d be raped, they’d steal our kidneys ... we were absolutely putting ourselves in danger ... they really did scare us.”
Vazquez, “But our experience has been different since we arrived Saturday, despite the propaganda of blood running in the streets, and fires and shootings all over the city of Caracas, that was not the case.”
“I’ve been here three days and I have to say, it’s propaganda. There’s a lot of propaganda and they’re taking some instances and they’re creating a very powerful message and it's being repeated in very powerful media stations and good people are believing it,” agreed Patafio.
The union leaders traveled throughout Caracas unimpeded, visiting polling stations, hospitals, as well as working class sectors.
“I would say that (people) need to come and see for yourselves what is happening in Venezuela. You can not rely on CNN or any other international communication or papers like the New York Times or the Washington Post, because they are only reflecting the story of the ruling classes, the oligarchy of this country, that want to preserve their interests,” Vazquez explained.
“They’re reflecting the voices of the 1 percent, while 99 percent of the Venezuelans support the process, support their government and they want peace and they want to continue the social gains they have made under the Bolivarian Revolution,” Vazquez concluded.
“The few areas where we saw violence, it seemed to be the more middle class areas, and the violence was centered in those areas for a few blocks ... but it was only in those areas,” Patafio said, adding that any evidence of "violence was one way," that the videos he saw showed opposition supporters instigating the acts, while the police was pinned with the violence.
“What we did see,” Vazquez countered, were thousands arriving to a makeshift polling station erected in the stadium in Caracas. “Thousands of people arriving there from communities in Miranda, because they could not vote in their own neighborhood because the the so-called 'opposition' was practically holding people hostage and preventing them from voting and exercising their right to vote.”
“The participation was impressive. So I found surprising when I saw headlines the next day talking of high absenteeism in Venezuela and that is not the truth,” Vazquez said.
“The way the voting went, was they divided everybody into sectors. They had workers sectors, they had Indigenous sectors, they had sectors based on your profession or job, they had sectors based on where you lived ... They had hundreds and hundreds of slates, so clearly, there was a race going on,” said Gonzalez.
“We visited several polling places and that was when we were just so moved by what was going on. We were just overwhelmed by the number of young people and women who were basically running the vote,” she said adding that the transparency of the whole process was incredible.
“I’ve been through a lot of union elections, I know what to look for when there’s cheating, I didn’t see any cheating. I saw a very open process; I saw the people that were controlling it, were people from the community, earnest. So, I thought it was fine,” Patafio agreed.
“One thing that I did think was significant is that I didn’t see any international media. No reporters from the New York Times, no cameras from CNN, no cameras from Fox Television, or any other international media ... covering the poor working class neighborhoods that are the backbone of this revolutionary process in this country,” the Health Care Workers Union vice president said.
All three of the representatives were amazed by the care the government had exerted, and attested that the presence and evidence of Chavismo still runs strong, with free or low-cost health care, housing, and transportation continuing to receive financial support from the administration.
“I think there is a crisis, right, an economic crisis and to some degree it needs a political solution and I think the Constituent Assembly is an attempt to find a political solution to a serious economic crisis,” Patafio stated.
“(Venezuelans) know what they want and they wanted to determine their own fate. And, for me, self-determination became very clear," he said. "They wanted to make sure that people know that it’s peaceful, but they also wanted to make clear that we’re going to determine what’s going to take place in Venezuela. And they were really holding onto that and that’s what I saw at the polling stations.”