La Vida Boheme's Henry D'Arthenay Gives Us A Lesson in Venezuelan Politics, Media, and Cacerolazos

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Former Venezuelan vice president and Hugo Chavez’ right-hand man Nicolás Maduro won the special election on Sunday April 14th to replace his former boss as president of Venezuela. Or maybe he didn’t if you ask his opponent Henrique Capriles and his supporters.

Long story short: Capriles immediately claimed fraud, his supporters (a little over 48% of voters) protested, and Capriles demanded a full 100% recount instead of the usual 54% random sample recount, His demand was accepted, but Maduro was still sworn in on Friday, April 19th. Needless to say, it’s been quite a roller coaster ride of emotions for Venezuelans at home and abroad.

News coverage of the week’s events weren’t very helpful and most persons I know are either completely Pro-Chavista or Anti-Chavista. Luckily, there was an ace up the metaphorical sleeve: Henry D’Arthenay of La Vida Boheme. The singer/guitarist of the rock/indie group and his bandmates are from the country’s capital of Caracas where protests were some of the most intense. D’Arthenay, besides being a musician, is also a graduate of the University of Navarra in Spain with a degree in Media Studies. If there’s anyone from Venezuela who could explain Venezuela to anyone not from Venezuela, it’s him.
In Pt. 1 of this two-part interview, D’Arthenay explains the events that unfolded last week following the elections in Venezuela on Sunday April 14th, the country’s voting process, style of government, and the political polarization in the media.


Tell me about the recent election in Venezuela. There’s a lot of confusion behind it all for us non-Venezuelans.

The election was on Sunday and, since then, the opposition has been demanding a recount of the votes and it was given to them by the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE). That’s the organization that’s in charge of taking care of the elections and they granted the auditoria of the elections yesterday, at night.

Now, check this out! On Sunday, there was the election and it took them just one day to have a scrutiny of 54% of the votes. One day. For the 46% remaining, the one they’ve been fighting over these days, they’re going to take one month. *laughs*

And they’re doing a recount but Maduro’s being sworn in anyway.

Yeah but that isn’t a problem over here. For example, in the year 1995, there was this governor that was sworn in and, Aristóbulo Istúriz, who is now with the Chavez government, back then…he demanded a recount and he said that he had won the elections. The other guy was sworn in and eventually they did the recount and they found out that he was right, the other guy had lost the election and that was no problem. A week later, they were swearing the other guy in. It’s because of the legal resources.

The thing is, all these issues have a lot of legal terms which I don’t know which are the translations into English because you guys have another judiciary system. You rule yourself by derecho constiturinario, constitutionary law. A judge in the states rules by antecedente, precedente.

For example, us, we come by Roman law. A judge needs to interpret the law, then it’s written. In the United States, when one court fails for one ruling that becomes law in that sense, that sets precedent. That way, further, future trials that may present the same characteristics, you can go back to them.

We have different judiciary systems. You have juries. We don’t have that here. Because of that, the resources are different. For example, a person can be sworn in and then can be taken out because legal resources here take more than in the United States.

It’s very common in Latin countries, for example, in Spain, Italy, and France. We don’t go by constitutionary law. That’s more of an anglo-saxon thing. Roman law is the basis of our judiciary systems. Yours is based on tradition.

I love constitutionary law because of the advantage it gives in spite of having many loopholes, for example, OJ Simpson! [laughs]. In spite of having loopholes, it keeps the law renewing itself and you don’t need to go through the whole big process of decrees and Congress rulings because once a judge dictates, that is law!

That’s why, for example, legalization of gay marriage, those things are more possible in countries with constitutionary law than in countries that don’t have constitutionary law because you can’t always go to a ruling that has a legal weight.

OK…let me take a second to absorb this and make sure I understand it all…

It’s complicated! *laughs* The thing is, back in college, I had to study the American system, the French system, the Spanish system, the German system and…I’m missing one but, my sister, she’s a lawyer here in Venezuela and it’s complicated because we’re talking in different languages. You have a very different system from us.

So, what’s happening here, is the ruling of the counting of the votes, they were saying that the opposition had to pass a resource to the Supreme Court, to “la sala electoral,” which is the section of the Supreme Court which takes care of all electoral issues. The whole debate was that CNE was saying that it was final – that the counting of the 54% of the votes, which has to be made by law, was enough. And the opposition…they saw a lot of irregularities in the election. They had to make a case to the CNE to demand a recount. [But the] CNE said that “this is not the way to do a recount. You have to go to a Supreme Court, to ‘la sala electoral.’”

**At this point, we lost the internet connection and had to restart some 30 seconds later**

I lost you on, you said the opposition had to file paperwork to the CNE first…

Well, there’s a lot of theories about why they gave in to a recount and you have to understand that, if you were to go to media news to get your news about Venezuela, you will find it’s very polarized.


I’ve read about that. It’s either public, Pro-Chavista media or private, Anti-Chavista media in Venezuela.

Yes, it’s propaganda. It’s not that we have a free media. Of course we have some problems with the media controlled by the government but it’s also what’s called internal control. Media channels here are acting very propaganda-like so it’s very difficult to find accurate information plus, in a very Venezuelan way, for example, do not let some media outlets to enter or don’t give them access to certain things. At the same time, more of the opposition-oriented media, sometimes they don’t report the whole thing through because they don’t agree with it and because the government doesn’t give them access to it.

The whole thing of the voting, it’s all rhetoric right now. Going to a newspaper and trying to get the news, it’s quite hard because they will try to sell you their point of view.

I like to think of myself as not siding with the Chavistas nor with the opposition. We have always been a political band but not a “partido” band, but, in this occasion, what the opposition was demanding is not outrageous. The election was close so, being the country as polarized as it was, it created a lot of tension.

First of all, the first person that spoke about a recount was one of the rectores of CNE. It wasn’t even the political figures! The guy, Vicente Diaz, he said, I think a recount would be healthy because the country is polarized and it was a very, very close election. The election was defined by only a 300,000 people difference.

I heard about that too. It was about 50.4% to…some ridiculous margin, right?

It was a 1.6% difference. 50.4% of one side against 49.7% of the other side. It’s very, very close – so Vicente Diaz said it would be healthy to do a recount. Maduro, he took the Balcón Del Pueblo, which is like in the presidential house. It’s an emblematic spot even more for Chavistas because during the 14-year period of Hugo Chavez, his most memorable speeches were from the Balcón Del Pueblo. It has come to symbolize the victory of the socialist movement or whatever. Maduro spoke from there and he accepted! He said, if there needs to be a recount, open the boxes! Let the people know we won and all that stuff. It was very, like, blatant.

What happened next? Capriles, who is the opposition leader, he took to the news and he said that he had a record of all the irregularities that were happening during the trascurso of the elections and it was enough for them to demand a 100% recount of voting. Here in Venezuela when we have an election, by law, you do an auditoria of 54% of the ballots.

Why is that? It’s not only counting the votes. This is important! It’s not only people questioning the votes. There’s a lot of confusion and the confusion is being made by the lack of information or lack of understanding of the procedures and this is where the media steps in and, sometimes they create more confusion because, obviously, they aren’t seeing it very objectively.

But what happens? What is an auditoria? What do you call it when an IRS guy goes to-

An audit.

This is a complete audit. What makes a complete audit, for example, in electoral cases? It’s not only counting the votes! It’s counting the votes with…coño, ¿como se llama esta…? It’s like a book and-

The ballot?

No. When you vote here, fuck, we have such a complicated way. It’s not like you go to a place, put a vote and put it in a basket which, in my opinion, should be enough. No! You go to your Centro Electoral, the place where you vote. First, they take your fingerprint into a data system, then you step into this tiny box and there’s a screen. It’s an automated electoral system. You push the button on the candidate you want and that machine prints a tiny paper with the name of the guy you voted for. You fold it, you put it in a box. Then, before stepping out, you have to sign a book with your signature and you put your fingerprint.

Is that why there are all those pictures of people with their pinkie fingers dipped in ink?

Yes! After they put your finger, they moist it in this ink and, well maybe you can’t see it from here but I still have some because it’s indelible ink. That way they don’t have people voting two times. It’s made up to be fail-proof but it actually isn’t.

So what is the whole thing with this? A full audit demands, with everyone of those boxes, it’s not only the vote that counts but the book that you sign, and there’s also this thing…it’s like a big roll of paper, which is like, it counts as the receipt of the voting. So, when you have to audit the elections, you have to check not only the voting but the book and this big receipt, or however you want to call it, because you have to see that the three of them match. Those three are the proof that someone went this day, at this time, put a vote, dropped it in and signed! That way you can prove that everything is in order…that’s what’s going to happen during these days.

People have been very angry, very upset. I don’t know if you know what a cacerolazo is.


Yeah, that protest where people bang on pots and pans.

Dude…everyday at fucking eight p.m. is like a Steve Reich concert with pans. And, this is not kidding, it’s people expressing themselves but it’s truly nerve wracking, you know? DING-DING-DING-DING-DING-DING for one fucking hour, sometimes two.

The next day after the elections, there was this whole problem. Capriles was demanding the audit. The CNE was saying we ain’t gonna audit. Maduro was saying, even though the night before he was very charismatic about doing an audit, he now wasn’t speaking about the whole thing and the TV del estado, the public TV, they were announcing for people to come to the Plaza Caracas to celebrate the proclamation of Nicolás Maduro. So people were very upset because they were saying “why do they need to proclaim now, one day, when there’s this problem?”

So it was seen as very audacious of Maduro by his opponents.

Yes. So people that day, Capriles called for a big caserolazo and people played the fucking pans for two hours! Since the proclamation started until the night that it entered.

One would assume that people would be more calm after yesterday they said that they were going to do the audit but they aren’t. Actually, before you just called, another caserolazo was just happening because Nicolás Maduro was being sworn in the Congress. One guy broke the security circle, tried to hug him or something very weird…but you can see people a caserolear again.

Bottom line, the streets are tense right now but I don’t think it’s so much because…obviously the voting factor is important but what’s really the question here is the authenticity – how legitimate are our institutions? For example, that Monday…people were angry because Nicolás Maduro was accepting victory but not at the presidential palace. He was at the CNE with la rectora of CNE so, it’s kind of like being in a football match and the referee congratulating Real Madrid and not Barcelona.

People have been pissed off because you have one of the guys in the presidential election being sworn in, not by an institution itself, [but] by an entity that’s supposed to be impartial and supposed to be neutral. People have been very pissed and by both sides! There’s a lot of Chavistas who think that it has been overreacted, the way the government has handled the whole situation, because a part of them are saying ‘well, I don’t see what the problem is! If we won the election, fair and square, why shouldn’t we be able to count the fucking votes and shut them up?’ That’s why people have to understand it’s not as much as a battle for who won what, as much as how legitimate our electoral system is.

We’re talking about a system that was praised by Jimmy Carter in its time but has a lot of flaws. For me, the core of the matter, it’s about authority. Authority is sometimes given with power but, not all power, not everyone who has an official touch, has the moral authority. You can have legal authority, but, for example, if you live in a country where the policemen are arbitrary and they don’t serve the law, which is supposed to rule everyone as the same, justice is blind as they say. If it’s like that, the moral authority…people don’t trust it because you have not proven to be trustworthy. 50% of the people have expressed that they don’t trust the results and that’s an issue. That’s an institutional crisis.

We don’t have even one week of Nicolás Maduro having won the elections and there’s been like eight deaths, there have been riots, caserolasos everyday. It’s a show of how instability works.


Stay tuned! Pt. 2 of the interview will be posted tomorrow