From Venezuela with Love

Sep 182003
Authors: Jamie Way

After having a gun in her face and months of marching in

protests, Carla Pukie knows the importance of voting.

“We never left home without a hanky soaked in vinegar for the

tear gas,” Carla’s mother, Silvia Pukie said.

The Pukie family sat comfortably in their new Fort Collins

apartment, thousands of miles away from their home in Venezuela,

which is now in political and economic shambles. The Pukies had

left to vacation in Florida, but decided not to return to


“When it was time to go back, there was no work. The gas

stations were empty and the stores were depleted,” said Andres

Pukie, Carla’s father.

Since Hugo Ch�vez became president of Venezuela in 1998,

the country’s economic situation has collapsed.

Andres said the economy has been set back three years and

according to Reed Lindsay, author of Venezuela faces new turmoil,

unemployment is currently at 18.4 percent.

Even though they were afraid, the Pukie family decided they must

take action along with millions of others who were opposed to

Ch�vez’s abuse of power.

“You’re so mad you forget you’re afraid,” said 58-year-old

Silvia, about her first march against Ch�vez. “I thought ‘at

my age, what am I doing out here?'”

Carla also took action. When thousands of oil workers went on a

two-month general strike from December 2002 to January 2003, Carla

was there.

“They were risking a great deal by going on strike and I knew I

had to be there to support them,” Carla said.

Silvia watched on television from her home in Caracas as the

protest Carla was at was ambushed.

“They used an extreme amount of tear gas,” Andres said.

The tear gas was launched into the air, which is illegal under

United Nations International Law.

“Everyone was running and they were shooting pellets at people,”

Carla said.

The national guard blocked the protestors escape routes. Carla

tried to run across a bridge, but was stopped at gunpoint.

“I held my flag up in one hand and my vinegar handkerchief up in

the other and I screamed, ‘Peace, peace! I want peace!’ and

something must have clicked in his head, because they signaled and

let me through,” she said.

Although the Pukies reside in Fort Collins for the time being,

they stay active in the movement to remove Ch�vez from


They read papers from Venezuela and network with other

Venezuelans in Colorado and the rest of the United States. On

Monday nights, the Catholics gather.

“We get together to pray and march together,” Silvia said.

Under the Venezuelan constitution, Ch�vez can be removed

from office by a new election if after the halfway point of his

term, Aug. 19 of this year, 20 percent more signatures than votes

he was elected by are gathered. The signatures must then be

approved by a committee chosen by the supreme court. The supreme

court has chosen five people to sit on this committee: two

Ch�vez supporters, two that are anti-Ch�vez and a

fifth individual, Fransico Carrasquero.

Last Friday the court ruled that the 2.8 millions signatures

gathered were invalid, because they were collected prior to Aug.

19, the halfway point of the term.

“So we’ll collect them again,” Silvia said.

Venezuela’s hope now lies in the hands of Carrasquero.

“People hope he is ethical,” Silvia said.

Noel Lane, a Coloradoan who has participated and closely

followed Venezuelan politics for over seven years, recently had

dinner with Carrasquero.

“He leans left, but will be honest. I believe there is a good

chance the signatures will be collected and I believe approved,”

Lane said. “The question is, ‘what are the requirements?’

Ch�vez supporters are trying to make absurd criteria

legitimate to invalidate signatures.”

The fact that there has been little violence can be attributed

to the Venezuelan’s attitude.

Lane said, “There has been little violence because of the

people’s commitment to freedom and peace.”

Once the situation is settled, the Pukies plan to return to


“That is the plan. We would like to go home,” Silvia said.

Andres said perhaps some good will come from the current


“Venezuelans were very apathetic about voting. They have learned

now it has a very strong meaning to stand up for your rights,”

Andres said. “Now everyone wants to vote.”




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