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The voting tables began to open at six, as agreed, and there were already hundreds of people in long lines in the surroundings of the voting centers, guarded by the Armed Forces. Some had their provisions of coffee, and of the traditional and always present arepas stuffed with meat or yellow cheese (the most popular Venezuelan meal); others took portable stools, books, or newspapers.

Everybody went to vote early. And the promise from the authorities is that nobody will end up without his or her chance to vote. Although it will not be registered as an Olympic feat, today, the record of electoral participation by Venezuelans could be broken.

Rumors began to spread early as well. For example, the version that the voting machines changed the votes... that Chávez had already left the country, and so forth. But to each rumor, there was almost immediately an answer, perhaps encouraging new rumors.

“Everything is going well (...). It’s impressing to see the spirit of cooperation among the members and witnesses of the voting tables,” said the head of the OAS delegation of observers, ambassador Valter Pecly. “We hope that the civic, democratic spirit keeps up.”

For vice-president José Vicente Rangel, the referendum represents an act of national reconciliation in which Venezuelans have ratified their conviction of abidance by constitutional norms and democratic participation. Rangel said that this popular joy is due to the fact that the democratic groups in the opposition have outnumbered the groups supportive of coupmongers.

“The lines are huge. There’s an atmosphere of joy in all voting centers, all over Caracas”, said the Minister of Defense, general Jorge García Carneiro.

Chávez denies allegations

“Today is a day of joy for participatory democracy, for our Constitution, and for our people”, said Chávez, after casting his vote, for the eighth time since 1998 -after urging Venezuelans not to listen to rumors about Chavez’ abandoning his post and turning it over to vice-president José Vicente Rangel.

“I urge you not to pay so much attention to rumors(...), José Vicente will continue as vice-president. ¡And what a great vice-president!”, he commented. There were also rumors that he would dismiss Rangel and appoint Diosdado Cabello, current candidate to the governorship of Miranda state, and close collaborator of the president.

Chávez expressed that “in case that I lose (José Vicente Rangel) would be president, but he would turn the presidency over right back to me, within a month; I’m sure about that”.

“Alert to the last second. This historical referendum process, an example to the rest of the world, must go on for as long as there are people in line. Let us get ready with joy and optimism, free of desperation of any kind, to accept the results given by the National Electoral Council (CNE)”, he concluded.

Abstention decreasing

One of the main CNE officials, Oscar Bataglini expressed that today’s referendum process “will be the most highly attended electoral event throughout Venezuelan history” since “abstention, traditionally 30% or 40%, is estimated to drop significantly, perhaps to 20%”.

US ex-president Jimmy Carter, pointed out all of the electoral work that is being done today throughout all of Venezuela, in an atmosphere of patience, transparency, and civic spirit. “Ninety nine percent of all (voting centers) have been installed nationwide. Those that are not operating are having problems with the organization of the voting tables and not with the voting machines. So we can say in general terms, that everything is running smoothly”, said Carter.

Carter expressed that any announcement ahead of time (a threat from opposition leaders), could cause disturbances to the process. Therefore, the only entity that can make official announcements is the CNE, whose members are the only ones who will have access to the data.

Tranquillity for markets

The president of the state run oil company Pdvsa, Alí Rodríguez Araque, indicated that this referendum “sends a positive message of tranquillity to international markets”.

“Venezuela is giving proof of not only having enormous reserves of gas and oil, but also of being a stable democratic country. And the best evidence of a healthy political system is the process that Venezuelans are going through today”, he assured.

“Insofar as the people vote, and are aware of their rights and duties, we will be an example of democracy, not only for the rest of Latin America, but also for the world”