Morela Guillen, 50, is a former nurse in Caracas who swapped her career in health care for a job with one of the many Communal Councils (Consejos Comunales) that were created by Hugo Chávez’s government.
These Communal Councils are meant to advocate for residents of the poorest neighborhoods, giving them a voice and taking care of their needs. But they are also strongholds and political machines for Chávez.
The political utility of the Councils was evident in the nearly 20 hours I spent with Guillen on Election Day, Oct. 7. Throughout the very long day, Guillen and her center put on a powerful get-out-the-vote operation in her neighborhood, all supported by government dollars, with the clear intent of reelecting Chávez.
These photos tell the story of her day. I’ll leave it to others to decide whether the government can offer voters free rides and free food and still call it a free election.
5:15am. At the government-funded communal council office, morela guillen meets drivers recruited to ferry voters to the polls.
06:06am. Guillen assigns a motorcycle driver to pick a voter up after polls had opened.
7:33am. Guillen disburses election day pay: 150 bolivares (~$35) in government money for motorcycle drivers, twice that for cars.
10:13am. Guillen asks neighbors if they’ve voted. If not, she’ll push: “Usually you need your president, today he needs you”
11:15am. Guillen tries to vote, but the lines are too long at the moment.
11:22am. Instead of waiting to vote, she lectures an exit-poll researcher about being too close to the polling station.
12:04pm. Mr. Francisco, an elderly voter, comes to the communal council looking for his voting location.
12:15pm. Morela assigns a driver to take Mr. Francisco to his correct polling station.
12:52pm. Food arrives. Free lunch and dinner will be disbursed to Chávez supporters in Caracas’ slums on election day.
1:13pm. Guillen checks the food inventory. She explains that many times, food is missing.
1:29pm. Some of the election day food delivered: 20 lasagnas, 18 chickens and 18 steaks
1:44pm. Food, juice and water are ready to be delivered to Chávez supporters
2:59pm. Guillen is ready to vote. She shows her ID card.
3:26pm. The “puntos rojos”—red points—tents where Chávez supporters can get free rides or free meals.
3:38pm. Chávistas prepare to get a ride to one of the polling stations.
3:54pm. People gather on the communal council terrace to watch election news on state-run tv.
9:02pm. After resting at home for a few hours, Guillen returns to her office for the official results.
10:06pm. The results are in. Chávez won with nearly 55% of the vote. Guillen celebrates with friends.
10:24pm. Guillen celebrates on her way to Miraflores presidential palace.
11:28pm. Morela finds a megaphone and praises the work of everyone, especially the women that fought so hard for Chávez.
12:23am. Mission accomplished, it’s time to celebrate.
12:30am. Chávez is giving a speech in the presidential palace, but it’s too crowded to go. Guillen watches street fireworks instead.