Hola from Venezuela,
When Hugo Chavez led a daring coup against an undemocratic, deeply unpopular government in Venezuela, it had to be aborted. When arrested, Chavez requested two minutes on national television so he could alert the conspirators to the coup’s failure. At the end of his televised speech, he uttered two crucial words which ensured that the campaign for democratic upheaval – a bit like Simòn Bolivar’s Campana Admirable 200 years earlier – would continue. These well-chosen words were: “Por ahora” (for now).
These words became a rallying cry. Now that the revolution is underway – and that’s what Chavez is unashamedly calling it – I’m keen to see how it’s progressing. I’ve joined a Brigade. We are a disparate group of about 15 from 6 different countries and we have met in Caracas, the birthplace of Simòn Bolivar and the epicentre of the revolutionary action.
This year Venezuela celebrates the bicentenary of their independence from Spanish rule. There are widespread and continuous commemorations of the bicentenary, with the common element no entry fee. This is about the masses joining in.
Today we met a dapper and erudite version of Simòn Bolivar in the street (accidentally on purpose if you know what I mean). He addressed us in stentorian tones about the odious Spanish rule and the worth of the battle for independence. The real Simòn Bolivar liberated no less than six nations and is known as El Libertador. Bolivar had a vision of continental resistance to European rule. His name lives on, of course, in one of those liberated nations: Bolivia.
The Brigade were scheduled to participate in the May Day rally so we prepared by ensuring we all had red clothing. When we joined the growing throng, it was clear that this was a huge event. The ribbon of red humanity spanned six lanes but there seemed to be no end to it. Conservative estimates put the crowd at 750 000. Unfortunately for our little Brigade, Hugo Chavez was absent from this year’s occasion (in Bolivia helping their incipient revolution, we were told). Anyway the speeches were no less passionate (all in Spanish so the passion was the only element I can accurately convey) and the concert was good enough all by itself.
the local custom
At one stage during the concert, a local woman tapped me on the shoulder and motioned to dance. Since the crowd had come to a standstill and were all paying some attention to the yonder stage, I wondered exactly what I should do. Anyway, I opted for the dance. (Never say no, when you are visiting – is that a rule?) Soon, the two of us had drawn an enveloping crowd and we became the drawcard for our little section of the crowd. It wasn’t long before I was moved aside by another bloke who took his place in the cleared space. I wasn’t sure whether or not my feelings should be hurt but soon it became apparent that this was the done thing, the local custom on the dance floor. The merriment and admiration were kept up for quite a while until the music stopped.
The revolution in Venezuela is a precarious one as there is a lot of resistance from the wealthy class in the country. (They held their own rally on the same day and the media portrayed the two as roughly equivalent in size but I seriously question that.) The petrol has been switched to public hands but this country has been badly governed for so long, the task of remediation is immense.
Hugo Chavez is revered as a saviour by a big majority of the population, especially the indigenous people. Anyway, plenty more to see.