BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA – Voters in the Venezuelan state of Barinas — where Chavismo was born — elected an opposition candidate as governor during a special election on Sunday. It was the first time in more than two decades that a member of the Chávez family wasn’t on the ballot.
The late Hugo Chávez’s father, Hugo de los Reyes Chávez, was governor from from 1998 to 2008. His older brother Adan Chávez was governor from 2008 to 2016. Zenaida Gallardo served briefly before Chávez’s brother Argenis Chávez, who served from 2017 until last year.
Human rights activists have reported the ruling socialist party that is loyal to President Nicolás Maduro, who took power after Chávez died in 2013, has created an environment of political repression that involves the law enforcement community, the judicial system, and the military.
After the opposition candidate won the November election, officials disqualified him and set up a second special election. Sergio Garrido, a little-known candidate, ran against former Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, Chávez’s former son-in-law and the father of his grandson.
Residents in Barinas have complained about gas and food shortages and unreliable public services. Garrido won on Sunday with more than 55% of the votes. It was a small victory with a big symbolic value.
“It was a defeat for the government,” said Héctor Antolínez, a Caracas-based journalist with Crónica Uno.
The opposition won two other governorships out of 23, but the victory in Barinas gave Henrique Capriles, Juan Guaidó and other opposition leaders hope that it’s the beginning of a radical political change in Venezuela.
“Beautiful Barinas — it ends where it began,” Guaidó tweeted.
Torres contributed to this report from Miami.