Thursday, May 01, 2003

CARACAS MAY DAY
May 1, 2003

May Day in the world (besides the US where the original repressed strike on May Day created this world event) is supposed to be a day where workers march to claim for better wages, working conditions, and other benefits. But in Chavez Venezuela it has become a day of protest where bosses and workers meet in the street of Caracas to tell Chavez how unhappy they are with his rule. Chavez keeps operating political miracles!

Since May Day is a holiday falling on Thursday it was a good excuse to leave San Felipe and go to a march for the first time since last January. I met with some friends at 10 AM and we took the subway to Plaza Morelos where the different unions were organizing their different groups as well as a few NGO and opposition parties, mainly from the left.

Today was a very nice and sunny day, and in spite of my hat and SPF 20 I did get some sun. I did stood or walked until around 3 PM. The march was not very long, perhaps considering that there has not been a serious movement since after El Firmazo. However, for a change the opposition dared to march to Plaza O’Leary, in the heart of El Silencio, considered a Chavez stronghold, about 3 blocks from Miraflores Palace.

The attendance was very good, better than I was expecting after the doldrums of these past two months. At least from what I saw, I can estimate from past attendance that at some point up to 200 thousand might have marched. With those that come and go all the time, I think that I might agree with the organizers talking of 400 thousand marchers over the event. We are not back to the million, but times have changed and this participation might be too strong for Chavez’s taste after his offensive of the past two months.

Chavistas had their own march where they were hoping to launch their new “independent” Trade Union. But I suspect that the pro Chavez march was not too successful since many of his supporters preferred to come and harass the opposition march. Indeed, 4 blocks before Plaza O'Leary, a whole bunch of people started to run back towards us as some shooting happened there. Apparently, as of tonight news, a worker from Aragua state was shot by two people that fled on a motor bike. Or were whisked away to anonymity by the security police. Rumors were flying everywhere.

We kept marching. This was indeed a little bit scary since if the shootings had happened on Avenida Universidad where I was it could have created a stampede! I wanted to go back at this point but my party was nosy, and the organizers told us that things were under control and we could keep going. Therefore, we went to Plaza O’Leary. Eventually we reached it but this last leg was more scary. Large numbers of National Guards were barring the entrance of avenues that go toward Miraflores, and of course plenty of hecklers were in front of them, unperturbed. And the march had thinned some so it felt a little bit uncomfortable.

I have to add that we were made even more anxious by an event that happened right in front of us. We saw somebody escaping from the cops and caught up right in front of us! He was an opposition marcher and, apparently, he picked a fight with a heckler. It was impressive for the speed at which it took place, and the post realization that had there been gun shots it would have been too close for comfort. That a few hundred were around me is not comforting... And had I seen somebody shot in front would not have made think of the odds in my favor for the next round…

But in spite of that we did reach the edge of Plaza O’Leary, rather reluctantly on my side. But we did. Since the area seemed a little bit agitated we decided that it was good enough and headed back, with a quick stop at McDonalds were I tried their new product minted for Venezuela: fried Yucca! Greasy…

Of course the march was beautiful, a sea of colorful Venezuelan flags ahead of, and behind, us. I took nice pictures. I also took pictures of the National Guard blocking every single street that would go in the direction of the National Assembly or Miraflores Palace. US marines in Iraq were not any better endowed. And people were furious!!! The Metropolitan Police had actually a cordon between the National Guards and us. The frightening thing was that the officers seemed to be taunting the marchers instead of being in clear defensive and non-provoking positions. Confirming my suspicions that Chavez is selecting the members of the National Guard to make them his own praetorian guards. Oh well...

Anyway, I came back satisfied but more worried than in the January marches. The mood was different this time. People seem in a somber mood, more grimly determined. Things are different now. We'll see.

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