Thursday, June 26, 2003

CARABOBO, OR HOW CRASS CAN ONE BE?
June 26, 2003

Carabobo is the last, and decisive battle in the Venezuelan independence wars. Its equivalent in significance is the United States own Yorktown. After June 24 1821, a few mopping operations removed the remaining Spanish garrisons, and Bolivar was able to concentrate on Peru and Bolivia’s independence. It has become a national holiday, and the day of the Army, celebrated on the Carabobo field with a big parade and the attendance of the highest local and national public officials. In the past it was actually quite a festive affair for the people leaving in the Valencia area.

Well, this year Carabobo has showed the Chavez government reaching yet another level of ridicule.

The day did not start well. The attendance was subjected to a body search that would leave some airports ashamed. Everybody had to show ID cards, invitations, and what not, depending on where they were planning to watch. When the governor of the State of Carabobo (named for the battle, of course) showed up with its floral offering, he was denied access. Of course, the governor is in the opposition but that should not count on a holiday that belongs to all Venezuelans. The mortified British ambassador that came with him was allowed to enter while the governor was pushed back out and left to stand behind the gates while TV filmed everything. Just as if a US president were going to Yorktown for some ceremony and barred the Governor of Virginia to enter the field, just because the governor is not from his party.

This shameful incident was repeated in similar terms when in Maracaibo the Army decided to “celebrate” behind closed doors rather than attending the traditional celebration on Bolivar Square, a celebration led by the Governor, again in the opposition to Chavez.

Chavez arrived to the filed in his motorcade, which opens the military march. What a change this year! Usually the president arrives flanked by a cavalry escort, standing up in a convertible car. Well, in addition to all of that he had 4 gorilla looking guys standing around him on the car, and some running along. TV was merciless showing Chavez first Carabobo in 1999, with the first lady as his only car companion in the car (they have separated since) and the large crowds cheering madly. Ah! Those were the days! People then came on their own. Now they have to be ferried in, and searched, just in case of.

All this was bad enough for Chavez’s image, but the day had yet its best moment ahead. Carabobo is one of the few “cadenas” that Venezuelans expect in the year. That is, traditionally at the president’s arrival time and his speech, usually brief and ceremonial, the state TV commandeers all the TV signals from the private networks until the military parade ends. Around two hours. It is OK since it is an important holiday and there is limited political action, just formal and historical speeches and a nice military parade. But this year if Chavez speech was short, the speech or the Army Head, Garcia Carneiro, was long-winded, ridiculously lyrical, and obscenely flattering. One would expect that from a personage that was on the lower merit marks of the Army ladder and compensated for it on his way to the top by sheer pandering to his boss.

The problem came when the “cadena” was suddenly suspended for technical problems. Immediately the political police DISIP came to the Valencia TV relay towers and arrested briefly the technicians on duty from the private networks alleging that they were sabotaging the transmission! While the own state TV relay was only 300 yards away. Chavez supporters came up with all sorts of speculations on media plots and other ludicrous phantasmagorias. As if the private networks, lately in the eye of the hurricane, would entrust such a major, and dangerous act, to some low-key workers on duty! Well, today it became clear that the State TV, VTV, had technical problems, that there was no such sabotage, and more damagingly that VTV did not have microwave back up facilities. Tonight rumors made it to TV that the Minister of Information was asked to tender her resignation.

Now, there some questions that one would like to have answer to. Why was the political police so soon at the retransmission towers, while this type of investigation is normally handled by the National Office of Communication, CONATEL? Why did they not stop first to the VTV relay to check things out? Why so many people were so quick (ready?) to denounce the “sabotage”? Could it be that the atmosphere these days is so charged so people just act crazily? Or could it be that it was a plan to create an incident, a plan that went awry? And if there was such a plan, could it be the result of some chavista internecine warfare to get rid of the Minister of Information at a time where elections might be approaching? Inquiring minds want to know.

Whatever the explanations are, yesterday the chavista government demonstrated how scared they are. And how ridiculous they have become. We already knew they were crass.

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