Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Tuesday 26, August 2003

Certainly, chavismo was not going to stay behind after the success of the opposition march last week (Revocatorio IV). And actually they can be thankful for that success since it seems to have awakened Chavez supporters to the reality that maybe, just maybe, a recall election could come up and remove their beloved leader from office. Chavistas governors and mayors sure did move their rear to try to bring as much support as possible to Caracas. Around 10 AM of Saturday 23, Globovision was showing the hundreds of busses driving up to Caracas and lining many a highway of the capital.

In one way the organizers gambled, while staying prudent. Instead of 6 starting points like the opposition act, they decided for two starting ones, though from their areas of strength they could have opted for at least 3. Effectively that did concentrate people some. But the chosen length of their marches did dilute some of the effect and TV did show significant gaps within the marches. Well, Globovision did since the state TV, VTV, has become a specialist of close ups and night shots that make it easier to give an impression of bulk.

Eventually the two marches converged to enter together on Avenida Bolivar. Certainly chavistas filled it up at some point in the afternoon and that gives a good hint of the total participation, at around 300 thousands (*). Much less that the opposition but perhaps the biggest chavista rally ever! This is the paradox, chavistas manage one of their best gatherings and yet, in spite of busses from the provinces, free booze and food distributions, and even some pay off to travel to Caracas, they manage at best to do half of a Caracas mostly based opposition march.

Chavez sensing a decent turnout showed up before nightfall in a triumphant procession through the crowd. He did is long speech in “cadena”, not surprisingly. Some technical problem suspended it temporarily, but he finished it with a big firework, a perfect ending to his fiery rhetoric which must have set yet a new record in threats against the opposition, the USA, neo-liberalism and what not. Unfortunately the cadena was suspended a tad too early and Globovision which had a camera at the other end of the Bolivar Avenue showed the last fireworks and 2/3 of the avenue empty! Well, it was 8:30 PM and people wanted to go back home, a few hours away for many of them. Some chavistas were livid on Sunday, saying that it was old footage. Unfortunately Globovision showed again the footage and one can see the fireworks, the specially decorated podium for the “third” anniversary.

But this is not really a matter of numbers. After all governments in Venezuelan history have subsidized busses to fill up their mass meetings. Booze also was freely given at many of Accion Democratica rallies, in addition to nifty T-shirts and what not. It really does not matter whether Chavez goes way further in this aspect. It really does not matter if the opposition does not need any more to hire busses to carry supporters from the provinces now that Caraquenos can offer half a million marchers without much trouble. What is important is that the opposition had no street presence until early 2002 and now Chavez must work really hard to keep his street presence at a respectable level. What matters is that chavismo is on a reactive mode in the street expression and does not set up the agenda anymore there, unless it wants to promote violence on occasion.

What is even more important is that the care and preparation of the Saturday rally and the particularly vengeful tone of Chavez’s discourse belittles the official confidence of the government language. The Chavez administration is running scared, scared of a possible recall election that they know they cannot win legally these days. They also can read the polls.

(*) Bolivar Avenue by itself cannot contain more than 200 000, without considering the space taken up by podiums, etc…

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