JPEG - 35 kb

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez filled Caracas’ largest public venue yesterday, packing the Avenida Bolívar for well over a mile and overflowing onto side streets all over the downtown. Clad in red-the colour that has come to represent chavismo in Venezuela-supporters bore t-shirts, hats, berets, placards, puppets, and inventive home-made signs all uniformly declaring “No!” to the recall on Chávez’ mandate scheduled for next Sunday, August 15th. Since his election in 1998 Venezuela’s opposition has tried ousting Chavez with a failed coup, a series of economically devastating general strikes and lockouts, and violent street protests and paramilitary activity. It is only since those efforts proved unsuccessful in defeating Chávez that the opposition has put its weight behind a constitutional effort in the form of the recall referendum. Opposition rhetoric rarely points out that it was Chávez’ new constitution, drafted and ratified by the National Assembly in 1999 that allows for a Presidential recall-an option not open to the citizens of most other countries.

“If Chávez goes or if he stays, the people will stay because now we have power,” declared a jubilant Dimas Salazar who had traveled to Caracas from the state of Monagas on Venezuela’s Atlantic coast to attend the march. “Chávez is using the history of this country to change it, and a country’s history is its primary strength,” continued Salazar.

During the attempted coup in 2002, Venezuela’s poor-who make up a majority of Chávez’ followers-flooded out of Caracas’ hillside shanty-towns to demand their President’s return, jolting loyal elements in the military into action. Yesterday, they gathered in downtown Caracas to reaffirm their support for a President they see as breaking with a 40-year tradition of corrupt clientelist politics that greedily kept oil-rents circulating in the same elite circles.

JPEG - 25.4 kb

“Next Sunday we are going to say ‘No’ to the auctioning off of this country’s resources,” affirmed José Falcón from the state of Carabobo. “The «No» is to foreign intervention,” he continued “to our corrupt past; It is a «No» to protect our social programs like Misión Ribas [highschool education], Misión Robinson [literacy], and Barrio Adentro [health].”

In what has become a tradition under Chávez in Venezuela, he began his lengthy three-hour speech by leading the mass of red in the national anthem. Though dismissed as a sappy populist ruse by his critics, to witness the President of any country singing in call and response with its citizens is undeniably moving. And the symbolism is hard to ignore. "The slogan Uh, Ah, Chavez wont go, is not only a national slogan, but one that transcends Venezuela’s borders, a slogan of struggle that says no to imperialism, no to exploitation of humans, no to injustice, no to war," Chavez said.

Drawing the parallel to Venzuela’s independence struggles in the 19th Century, Chávez declared, “This «No» is the same «No» of Ezequiel Zamora when he said «oligarchs tremble, long live liberty».” “It represents 500 years of «No».”