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October 17, 2008

Covering an election, Venezuela style

I made plans to follow Antonio Ledezma, the opposition party candidate for mayor, this past Saturday. A campaign press secretary told me to arrive at the Caricuao metro stop at 10 am. A fellow named Jose would drive me to a poor neighborhood nearby. Ledezma would be campaigning there.

Knowing that Venezuelans are never on time, I arrived at the station at 10:15 and called Jose's cell phone. He didn't answer. I waited 15 minutes and tried again. Still no luck. I called the campaign secretary, and she put Jose on the line. He said he had gotten delayed but would be along.

By now, I saw other volunteers for the Ledezma campaign outside the Metro stop. I grabbed one of them, explained who I was and within minutes found myself being directed to the back of a motorcycle that would whisk me to the campaign event.

I can count on one hand how many times I've ridden on a motorcyle in my life. Never in Caracas. For a reason. Motorcyclists race between cars idled in traffic.

So I soon found myself racing between cars idled in traffic. That is when we weren't racing up a street the wrong way. Several other people going to the campaign event also rode on the back of motorcycles. It was exhilarating -- and scary.

After five minutes, we slowed down. I looked up ahead. A dozen red-shirted Chavistas had stopped a Ledezma sound truck and were smashing the windshield. Our motorcycle group wheeled around and raced back to the Metro stop.

Someone removed the Ledezma placards that the motorcycles were carrying. We took off again. The Chavistas had disappeared. We came upon the sound truck. The driver was shaking. The windshield was ruined. The campaign event was canceled.

Ledezma regrouped with his supporters at another Metro stop an hour later. He blasted the Chavistas in an impromptu press conference. He and his supporters began walking down a broad avenue. Ledezma shook hands whenever he found a potential voter. The supporters handed out campaign literature. An hour later, Ledezma climbed into a black SUV and disappeared. I ate two empanadas for lunch at a soda fountain.

I took the Metro back to Caricuao. I had seen a few Chavistas there earlier and wanted to ask what had happened to the sound truck. Several of them said Ledezma had no business trying to enter that barrio, that the barrios belonged to Chavez. They said the "muchachos" had taken care of the Ledezma sound truck. A Chavista named Nestor agreed to take me to the spot where the attack occurred. I wanted to see if I could find an eye witness.

The attack occurred 30 meters from a roadside bar. Nestor ordered a Polar Ice beer and insisted that I drink with him. The bar owner couldn't (or wouldn't) give any details. Nestor told me that he was a Chavista because he opposed the "imperialistas." I'm from the United States, but he didn't mind talking to me. I bought him another beer. Nestor and I had an interesting conversation.

We climbed back onto his motorcyle, and he drove us back to the Caricuao Metro station. I talked with a couple of other Chavistas. One of them accused me of being a CIA official. I told him he was wrong and then rode the Metro home.


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This sort of thing is typical of the Chavez dictatorship and its supporters...they simply resort to fear and violence when they are opposed, because they are too stupid to do anything else.

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jim wyss

Inside South America is written by Jim Wyss, the South America bureau chief for the Miami Herald and McClatchy Newspapers.

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