March 2, 2004

Venezuelans use people power to attack Chavez

By Phil Gunson in Caracas, from The Independent (London)

Burning barricades erected by opposition protesters blocked streets and motorways in many parts of the Venezuelan capital yesterday, as chances of a peaceful, electoral solution to the country's two-year-old crisis appeared to recede.

Three months after the opposition umbrella group, the Democratic Co-ordinator (CD), gathered more than three million signatures for a referendum against the leftist President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's electoral authority was poised to reject the petition.

The only way to revive the referendum, guaranteed under Mr Chavez's 1999 constitution, would be for hundreds of thousands of signatories to reaffirm their intentions - an option that seemed certain to be rejected by the CD as impractical.


Eyewitness statements from yesterday evening
In Altamira the stakes are somewhat high: oil, broken glass and debris litter the streets on the Luis Roche avenue south of the Fco de Miranda down to Torre Britanica. A slide and fall will get you hurt with several small pieces of wreckage (broken shards mainly).

The GN pushed north a couple of times from 5 pm to 6:30 pm. Only one attempt was made in earnest, the others were bluffs. But that push was intense in tear gas. I heard but cannot confirm that a person was wounded from a FAL shot earlier in the day when the GNs pusdhed north from Torre Britanica from Luis Roche avenue and San Juan Bosco avenue.

Most of the people are young (from teens to 30s). As the previous eyewitness reports, you could see people from different social strata in the mix. However, unlike that eyewitness, the only people I can disqualify are those that acted like hoodlums (the walls of the Cine Altamira building are being / were broken broken into pieces) - but certainly I cannot disqualify the "sifrinos" or the "giggling teens".

One of the myths that the Government is trying to perpetuate is that the opposition is monolithic. On the contrary, it is anything but. This means that the moment you call a rally anywhere, you'll get hoodlums (and maybe a couple of "infiltrados" for the conspiracy theorists), you'll get old ladies (I saw some north of Fco de Miranda), you'll get bourgeois, you'll get non-bourgeois, men, women, young, adults, that is to say, a huge mix. Given that none of them have clear orders (unlike the well-funded guys on the other side of the 'contienda'), it is almost impossible to predict or control the outcome (e.g. tumbling walls of Cine Altamira). Basically, you have to know that some crap is bound to happen when a rally is called...

That said, Altamira is not the end-all be-all of the situation. Prados del Este was blocked in toto at the Santa Fe distributor, Caurimare saw some troubles too (even affecting the Policlinico - a private hospital). Macaracuay. In other cities, I talked this morning with a client of mine in Estado Carabobo: many districts were also closed.

This is a reaction against the continued hooptedoodle the country's ruler and his cronies are trying pull. People are fed up - the sentiment is "No more BS!"

Statement: Coming home in Colinas de Bello Monte, I saw a group of maybe 40 people (all ages, all genres and, as I'm not a fashion victim, I didn't see how they were dressed; they were dressed, though: nudity is out of the question when there is fire around) lighting up a barricade. Would have liked to stay longer that the five minutes I stayed, but I'm over a hundred kilos and can't run. The people there were with the typical "merry-go-lucky" (if that is the expresion) attitude with which Venezuelan get into everything. But there was also a "come-and-get-me" attitude. Maybe they just want to be in the news. At least in that way they would be heard, which is all they want.

You know how Venezuelans act when they feel someone is trying to bully them: arrecho, arrecho y medio. That was exactly the stance these people had. I think they are making a mistake, they are playing into Chávez's hands (giving him the justification to declare the Estado de Excepción), but then I understand their feeling of powerlessness.

Keep those eye-witness statements coming. Make them snappy and factual, tell me what you saw.