May 21, 2013
A rainy red roundup rally
Venezuelan President closes campaign with huge Caracas rally
Nobody and nothing was missing. Including the water. Under the pouring rain, Hugo Chávez held his closing campaign rally in Caracas yesterday, haranguing the packed masses of his supporters who since early morning had been thronging along the seven main avenues of the Venezuelan capital. From the central rostrum mounted on Avenida Bolívar, a soaked Chávez arrived trotting up to the catwalk. The crimson tide awaiting him curled up ecstatically into yet another wave. It was 2.45pm and the Bolivarian leader broke all records — he began his rally “early” (announced for 1pm) and gave one of the briefest speeches in his campaign. Just 30 minutes to stay ahead of the next downpour.
Caracas traffic had been impossible since the earliest hours of the morning. The National Guard had installed a security ring two kilometres in radius in front of the comandante’s podium. Row upon row of buses and vans were parked all the way down Urdaneta y Bolívar avenues, some with official government and ministerial identification. And others with more homemade graffiti on their windscreens: “Puerto Ordaz 87” and “Adelis from Falcón (state)” were some of the more “spontaneous” expressions of Chavistas who had travelled for more than 15 hours along Venezuela’s impossible roads to give Chávez their support.
In front of the Agriculture, Interior and Justice Ministries located on Avenida Urdaneta, large groups of supporters with the trademark red Tshirts trooped towards the intersection with Avenida Bolívar behind a standard indicating their loyalties. Among the crowd, blueshirts with a slant-eyed Chávez visage stamped on their chests showed that you do not necessarily have to be decked out in red to be a Chavista.
It was 11.30am and crossing Plaza Carabobo was already a headache. Meanwhile, the avenues offered all the variables of militant Boliviarianism. Every two blocks, some soap-box with loud-speakers and tricolour-draped girls reinforced the omnipresence of 14 years of the Chavista state. “Seniat (tax agency) patrols” on one soap-box, “Pdvsa for oil independence” on another.
On a side-street, a truck reading “Arepas Bolivarianas” distributed arepas, Venezuela’s popular pastry. “We’ve travelled eight hours from Monagas state: all the “areperos” (arepa-makers who work for the gobverment-funded Arepas Bolivarianas) of the country are present here”, pointed out Euclides, the head of the staff for that “socialist snack” truck. He’s 25 and just as Chavista as the rest of his family.
“We sell almost 300 arepas a day but today we’ve already sold 400 and we’re going for 1,300”, he added. At three bolivars each, his price is unbeatable against the 20 bolivars charged in any bar.
Meanwhile Chávez had kept them waiting. Militants (not many families or children) sang, some danced the joropo folk dance. From another podium, a spokesman requested by microphone that “comrades working in the underground economy should leave the premises.” But anyway, there is always enough room for merchandising the “comandante”. With Chávez multiplied in talking dolls, in khaki fatigues or in the red beret and Tshirt version. “Chávez, Chávez, Chávez”, cloned by the million as if in an Aldous Huxley novel. Earrings with the face of Chávez, caps with the face of a youthful and slim Chavez, strange caps with 10 (red) fingers deployed (“the 10 million votes we’re going to get”, Neorvis Rondón, a teacher who came from Maracaibo with her relatives and had just brought the red gadget, told the Herald).
But then, in the afternoon, the Venezuelans would see the same Chávez as ever. Before his cancer. Strong, apparently recovered, defying the inclement rain, he started singing the first verses of the Venezuelan national anthem. The crowd supplied the chorus: “I give thanks to God to live to see/Here’s Chávez on his feet and with all of ye.” Another wave and roar of “Uh, ah, Chávez is not going away any time soon.”
Afterwards the never absent appeal to youth, the request to convert “this Bolivarian avalanche of today into an avalanche of votes this Sunday”, and the equally unavoidable denigration of his rival whom Chávez never names.
“Who is the neo-liberal candidate?”, he asked. “El majunche (that little thing)”, replied the wave. Who is the candidate of the rich and corrupt?” “El majunche”, repeated the wave. “Do you think that a government led by the majunche would boost the (social) mission of Barrio Adentro, that a government of the rich would push a Misión Mercal (a low-price market)? Of course not,” he concluded hastily.
He offered apologies “no doubt I’ve made mistakes” and promised “not to fail Venezuelan youth.” “Go out and vote for life, for the fatherland, for the future”, he exhorted, taking his leave with Che Guevara’s famous phrase “¡Forever until victory (Hasta la victoria, siempre)!”. A Bolivarian revolutionary close.