Why Venezuelans Burn Effigies of Election Candidates

PHOTO: Watch out for the burning effigy! Residents of Caracas burned dummies of their most hated politicians on Sunday.PlayManuel Rueda/ABC/Univision
WATCH Why Venezuelans Burn Effigies of Election Candidates

A Venezuelan easter tradition took on a political twist on Sunday as hundreds of people burnt effigies of the politicians they hate the most.

Traditionally, Venezuelans have burnt an effigy of Judas the apostle on Easter Sunday in order to "punish" him for betraying Jesus Christ. But in recent years Judas has been increasingly replaced with politicians and public figures who fail to do their job properly or "betray" the peoples' trust.

With presidential elections coming up on April 14, the most popular effigies this year were opposition candidate Henrique Capriles and Nicolas Maduro, the former bus driver, and temporary president of Venezuela who is seeking to fill Hugo Chavez's shoes.

These "burnings" of presidential candidates took place in dozens of Caracas neighborhoods throughout the day.

"Let the traitor burn!" shouted residents of the neighborhood of La Candelaria, as they lit a newspaper-filled dummy that had the heads of Nicolas Maduro and two other high profile chavista officials.

"Since Maduro [took over after Chavez passed away] he devalued the currency so much that the salaries of Venezuelans are now worth 46 percent less," said Carlos Julio Rojas, an exasperated resident of La Candelaria.

The 40 percent devaluation of Venezuela's currency was enforced by Maduro in February. The reason for this move was that the government needed some liquidity in the form of bolivares from selling its oil abroad. When their payment is converted from dollars to bolivares, they end up with 40 percent more local currency. The problem is that devaluation has drastically reduced the value of the average Venezuelan's savings. It also makes food -- which is mostly imported -- more expensive.

"I sometimes send my daughter a box of rice, corn flour, and cooking oil, cause she can't find that where she lives," said Sonia Guerra a local resident whose daughter lives in Maracaibo, a city near the border with Colombia.

Guerra, claimed that government price controls on basic food items are encouraging merchants in Maracaibo to ship their food over to Colombia --where higher profits can be made—lowering the supply of basic goods in that city.

But it's not just economic troubles that prompt people to burn these dolls in anger. The 'burnings' also served as unofficial campaign events, in which people echoed the harsh rhetoric, that has been deployed here by both candidates.

At burnings of Maduro effigies, which generally took place in lower middle class neighborhoods, residents labeled Maduro a 'puppet' of Cuba's socialist regime. That's because Cuba is thought to have played a hand in Chavez's decision to pick Maduro as his successor.

In shanty towns where Capriles effigies were burnt, residents said that the opposition candidate was a "lackey" of the "U.S. Empire," and a liar who would cut social programs for the poor if he became president of Venezuela.

"A rich man (like Capriles) cannot love the poor because he does not know what it is like to live in poverty," said Luis Hernandez from 23 de enero, a low-income neighborhood that is made up of public housing projects and improvised shacks.

These depictions of both candidates, are not exactly accurate. Maduro earned a spot in Venezuela's socialist elite, not just due to any help he may have received from Cuban officials, but thanks to his unwavering loyalty to Chavez and his socialist project. If he wins the election, however, the country's economic problems and pressure from his own party, might force Maduro to cut back on aid to Cuba and other countries in Latin America's socialist axis.

When it comes to Capriles, he has a demonstrated record of investing heavily in education projects in slums while he was governor of the state of Miranda. He looks south for political inspiration rather than north, saying that he is an admirer of the Brazilian economic model, which combines free market policies with generous investment in welfare programs.

Of course such subtleties were lost during the various "judas burnings" in Caracas, with some people screaming fanatically at lifeless dolls as they turned to ash.

"You sold your soul traitor; you deserve this!" screamed Eglis Brito, a 23 de Enero resident who watched three Capriles dummies burn at once.

When asked if this was a violent event, Brito changed her tone.

"We don't hate him," Brito said. "We want him to change because he is a human being and a young person.

She went on to say that Capriles did not see the "good things" Chavez left behind, such as the social programs and community initiatives in 23 de Enero.

"Everyone sees those things, but [Capriles]," Brito added.