Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Betting on the Venezuelan Election: One Limousine for Chavez, Two Cows for Rosales Written by Rebecca Trotzky-Sirr

Across Venezuela ,"Atrevete!", the presidential campaign slogan of Manuel Rosales, blares from nearly every media available. Rosales is Venezuela's main opposition candidate to standing democratic-socialist president Hugo Chavez. Roughly, "Atrevete!" translates along the lines of "Be bold and daring!"

Ironically, the Rosales' ¨Atrevete!¨ slogan provided Chavez supporter Jhonny Conteras inspiration for an unusual dare, a bet on the elections.

Conteras placed a classified advertisement in "La Frontera," the local newspaper of Merida, Venzuela. It reads: Atrevete. Do you firmly believe that you are going to win? I bet my luxury car against your goods, in a notarized agreement. I'm going with Chavez.

Conteras is a middle-age local business man and self-described "natural Chavista." He owns two posadas in Merida, a medium-sized university town situated in the Andes Mountains. He proudly owns a mint condition black Ford Lincoln Limousine. The fact that he owns a luxury car imported from Miami separates him from the stereotype of Chavistas as underemployed and poor.

Sunday Dec. 3 marks Election Day and nearly everyone has already chosen sides. Many local opinion polls show Rosales and Chavez neck and neck, but Conteras states that these surveys are manipulations.

¨If they want to manipulate, that's fine with me. I don't cheat," said Conteras. "My classified ad is straightforward, no lies. It's not saying anything provocative. If someone firmly believes they will win, what are they afraid of?"

Conteras has no fear of losing his Limo. He plans on splitting the proceeds of his winnings between his retirement fund and his children.

On Nov. 26 he finalized his bet, having chosen between the dozen or so serious contenders.

"I was offered 2 cows to bet against my luxury car, but I decided to go with a pro-Rosales neighbor," said Conteras.

The neighbor, Marcos Ribas, has gambled nearly $12,000 USD on Rosales’s electoral success. This bet stands forth in Venezuela’s economic context where the average yearly income per capita is $6,400 according to the latest CIA World book facts.

Since placing the classified ad on Nov. 15, Conteras has received hundreds of replies, text messages and phone calls. Today, in between the text messages on his cell phone to ¨pick up milk on the way home, dear¨ are mini representations of the political polarization in Venezuela.

Half the messages are support for Chavez.

One reads: "Asi es mi compatriota esos sinvergüenzas no volverán con Dios la virgen y Chavez hasta q la muerte nos separe su devota Rosa." ("That’s it my compatriot! Those shameless folks won’t return to power. God, the Virgin Mary, and Chavez, until death we part. Your Devoted, Rosa.")

The other half are death threats and insults. Among the messages suitable for publication, "Te interesa gane el loco alguna teta tienes hijo de puta ." ("If you want the loco to win, you must getting paid off, you son of a bitch.")

Because of the threats, Conteras has hired 24-hour armed guards. The guards also are pro-Chavez.

Conteras explained why he supports Chavez.

"In Venezuela, the opposition controls the state, without caring for our state. For example, in the past under their leadership, the International Monetary Fund gave funds to Venezuela. Then, we became a country in debt without real production. PDVSA, our basic industry, was in danger. Everything was bad," said Conteras. "This is what I don't want to happen again with Rosales. The opposition continues heading in the same direction, and the transnational companies and interests continue to poison us."

He remains firm that Chavez will win elections on Sunday.

Rebecca Trotzky Sirr is a 2006/07 Fulbright Scholar in Venezuela, a 3rd year medical student at the University of Minnesota, and a single mom to a smarty pants second grader, Zev. Rebecca believes that revolution is medicine. Zev believes that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, but the tooth fairy definitely does. Both are willing to bet 2 cows that Chavez will win the elections on Sunday. Contact Rebecca at revolution.is.medicine(at)gmail.co