Tomorrow Sunday, with the elections for deputies of the National Assembly, Venezuela is preparing to write another chapter in its lush electoral history. This XNUMX the country has already added XNUMX years electing its rulers, in a course of unstoppable events that began in XNUMX with a vote in the second degree, census and restricted to the ruling classes, and which today leads to the universal, direct, secret vote and also electronic. In all its moments, the Venezuelan electoral processes have been outstanding, and to verify this, we only have to do a brief review of our history.
Active, enthusiastic, passionate and permanent participation is one of the cultural features of the Venezuelan identity in regards to the political sphere. This is demonstrated by a long course of events that were shaping the electoral culture from the very moment that the Republic was born, which happened, precisely, in elections that not only revealed the rebellious character of the Venezuelan people, but also inaugurated the republican history of the whole region.
And it is that this history of two centuries and five republics is marked by votes, elections, popular clamor and consequent participation. Let's take a short tour.
First elections of America and first defeat of the empire. April 19, 1810 marks the beginning of sovereign political participation in Venezuela. Not exactly because of that improvised plebiscite against Vicente Emparan in front of the Caracas cathedral. However, the first formal elections in the history of Venezuela were precipitated by that event and revealed how the will of the people from now on would be felt through this civic tool.
It happens that the Government Junta in 1810, born in the heat of that declaration of April 19, although it did not have its origin in an electoral process, called elections for the National Congress, which would meet in March 1811. These elections, called by caraqueños loyal to Spain, they were made in order to achieve a body of deputies that would be constituted as executor of the king's rights, and therefore, stop any revolutionary independence adventure. But the opposite happened and literally those elections gave birth to Venezuela.
"Paradoxically, the regulation that was made to elect the defenders of King Ferdinand VII culminates in creating a Congress that becomes independent and declares the birth of the First Republic," recalls the Bicentennial Chronology of the Venezuelan Electoral Legislation published by the CNE in the year 2011, in the section dedicated to this first election experiment.
For that moment and for a long time, the exercise of choosing and being elected was very different from how we know it today, although its underlying spirit was the same: giving the people the decision of the direction of the homeland. The problem is that the category "town" had some specific characteristics that are far from the character it currently has.
The vote was census, that is, limited, not universal. This first time, only men over 25 years of age who owned at least "two thousand pesos in free movable or real estate" were able to vote, which restricted it exclusively to the wealthy classes. In addition, the election was of the second degree, that is, some parish representatives were elected and these in turn, meeting in each provincial capital, elected those who occupied the seats of that assembly. The proportion was one deputy for every 20.000 inhabitants.
The call was made in June 1810 and the elections were held between October and November. It should be remembered that empowered voters had to comply with a series of requirements, so before opening the polls, the local boards had to verify the credentials to in effect issue the authorization that gave each voter the green light.
The Congress resulting from this election, installed on March 2, 1811, had 43 deputies. Felipe Fermín Paúl served as president and Francisco de Miranda as vice president. It has the historical merit of being the first congress of its kind in Hispanic America and the second in the entire continent, preceded only by the one resulting from the revolution in the United States. This assembly was in office until April 1812 and had the great merit of drafting the first constitution of Latin America.
Naturally, this brand new Magna Carta legislated on the electoral issue and was a little more lax in terms of the requirements to choose and be elected. It still did not authorize women under any scenario, but for men it lowered the age to 21 years and assets to a range between 200 and 600 pesos, taking into account some considerations of marital status and place of residence. These provisions did not last long since the first republic fell almost immediately and Venezuela was plunged into the horror of war.
Long way to universal suffrage. With the country still on fire and the patriots under Bolívar's command trying to return to power, electoral activity was resumed within the framework of the Angostura Congress, in 1819. For this exercise of suffrage, the right to vote was granted to male owners and tenants, without specifying amount, and military from the rank of corporal upwards. They only voted in regions not controlled by royalists, which were the least populated in the country, but even so the elections were valid.
The constitution that was born in the heat of this election included among the requirements for voters not only certain socioeconomic conditions, but also knowing how to read and write. To make this new prerogative effective, a grace period was granted until 1830 for those affected to correct the problem, that is, they began to study.
In any case, all this was without effect with the patriot triumph, the consequent birth of Gran Colombia and the promulgation of the Constitution of Cúcuta in 1821. The Magna Carta of the new sovereign country enshrined that men could vote with at least 100 pesos of property or the exercise of some useful trade, and illiteracy appeared again, which this time was postponed until 1841 to give a chance to repair the condition.
About the electoral history of Gran Colombia, Boris Bonimov Parra tells in the Venezuelan History Dictionary of the Polar Foundation: “It was under the aegis of the Constitution of Cúcuta (30.8.2821/1825/XNUMX) that for the first time Venezuela experienced an electoral life more or less normal, for the election of members of public corporations and national leaders. The first election of president and vice president was made by the constituent congress, but the re-election, in XNUMX, of Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander was made by indirect popular vote. The Liberator President received almost unanimity of the votes, but the vice-presidential contest was close and gave rise to some outbreaks of early electoralism, at the regional and national level ”.
Stability was short-lived
The coastline appeared, Bolívar died, and all that escalation led to the dissolution of Gran Colombia and the return of Venezuela as a concept and as an independent country. The 1830 constitution was drafted and in 1832 the Elections Law was enacted, which regulated suffrage in the country for a quarter of a century. It established that to vote a property with an annual income of 50 pesos or a useful trade that produced 100 pesos a year was required.
These prerogatives were far less restrictive than all the previous ones and enabled a good percentage of the country's male population. The Dictionary of History says that by 1838 the number of registered and valid voters was a quarter of the male population of Venezuela and by 1846 it rose to half.
"Without a doubt, the liberality of the suffrage was greater than in most of the American and European countries of the same time," says Bonimov Parra, who also indicates that at this time the challenge was participation, given that the country was going through by a time of depoliticization that influenced the low participation of the people in elections.
The 1834 elections were the first major elections of this post-Gran Colombia stage. Marked by a tirade of militarism versus civilism, Dr. José María Vargas, representative of the second side, was elected president.
Universal male suffrage finally came in 1857 with the government of José Tadeo Monagas, within the framework of the constitutional reform of that same year. In this text the direct election and the secret ballot were also implemented. The whole second half of the XNUMXth century was full of reforms and counter-reforms, but in general the paradigm of the universal vote for the male population was maintained.
At the same time, the global context was plunging into the second wave of feminism: suffragism. The English women, who championed the movement, were persecuted, imprisoned and tortured for demanding their rights as citizens, like witches in the inquisition.
The female vote was then, from before and until much later, a subversive and dangerous proposal. Let us remember that the first wave of feminism, during the French Revolution, resulted in the beheading of Olympe de Gouges, the writer who dared to write the Declaration of the Rights of Women and Citizens, demanding full political rights for women . Venezuela also had its wave of suffrage that only saw results a century later, after battles of blood and fire where fighters such as journalist Carmen Clemente Travieso, Isabel Carmona and Ana Rosa Borjas stood out.
Participatory and protagonist democracy
Our 1936th century was turbulent and our electoral history reflects this. In 1945 the Supreme Electoral Council was finally created, and women won the right to vote for the first time in 25, but only those over XNUMX years of age, literate and restricted only to municipal council elections.
A year later, Venezuela achieved the desire for a truly universal vote for citizens over 18 years of age. This was given with the Electoral Statute of the Revolutionary Government Junta of 1946, after the October 1945 coup that overthrew Isaías Medina Angarita. The text was written to regulate the election of a Constituent Assembly.
From this Assembly was born the Constitution of July 5, 1947, which enshrined the election of the president and other collegiate bodies by universal, direct and secret suffrage. Presidential elections were held that December 14, in which Rómulo Gallegos was the winner by an overwhelming 74,47% over Rafael Caldera (22,40%) and Gustavo Machado (3,12%).
With the overthrow of the author of Doña Bárbara, the regime regressed and set the age suitable for 21 years, but when Marcos Pérez Jiménez was overthrown in 1958, universal suffrage was resumed, enshrined in the 1961 Constitution and reiterated by the 1999 Constitution with the great addition of declaring the democratic exercise of the Republic as participatory and protagonist, in addition to including the figure of the referendum to consult the people on matters of national importance.
Democracy in the fourth republic was in question at many times and by a large part of the people. Confidence in transparent elections was in decline, so, to refound the exercise of the vote, the new Magna Carta gave the Electoral Power the character of public power and established the replacement of the CSE by the CNE. This new entity began progressive work to adapt the exercise of the vote to the new times, and that resulted in Venezuela being able to automate its suffrage one hundred percent, in a way that even many developed countries even come close to.
Venezuela was born with elections of deputies, and tomorrow we will repeat that exercise again. This time with the particularity of doing it in a pandemic context, but no less passionate. Voting is not only a right and a duty, it is also a historical achievement that we only honor at the polls.