"Two Caracas plazas -- worlds apart"

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Dec 1 09:58:12 MST 2002

The generals are staging a prolonged sit-in at one of Caracas' top hotels
(don't worry, it's not a hunger strike or even a low-fat diet) to protest
Chavez's regime, and also their own inability to overthrow it.  The action
seems to be significant not only of the depth of class polarization, but as
an indication of the inability of the army so far to serve as an effective
counterrevolutionary instrument.
Fred Feldman

Two Caracas Plazas, Worlds Apart
By David Gonzalez
The New York Times

November 30, 2002

CARACAS, Venezuela * Every day, the generals and admirals who have rebelled
against President Hugo Chavez descend from the high ground of the Plaza
Altamira and take to the barricades to sign autographs.

Thousands of their admirers, mostly upper-class residents deeply distrustful
of Chavez's leftist populism, have flocked to this plaza since last month to
demand the president's resignation.

As the officers give speeches on a stage nestled in the plaza, their
supporters sit politely on metal bleachers. Nearby is a large digital
display that marks to the second the occupation of this plaza, which the
Chavez opponents call "liberated territory."

At the Plaza Bolivar -- on the opposite side of both town and ideology --
the Chavistas, the president's rough-and-tumble supporters, deride the
opposition and rally the faithful with fervent speeches in defense of the

On the gate of an abandoned theater, posters of Chavez hang alongside those
of Simon Bolivar and Che Guevara, while vendors hawk everything from incense
to songs dedicated to the president.

The only signatures being put on paper in the Plaza Bolivar are those
demanding the resignation of the Caracas mayor, a bitter Chavez foe. The
only stage is the street.

Venezuela's social and political polarization -- a tense standoff that
worries some analysts for its violent potential -- is nowhere as marked as
in these two plazas.

As the country braces for either a general strike or the completion of
negotiations for a political solution, the stalwarts on both sides keep not
only their distance, but also the absolute conviction that theirs is the one
true cause.

"These are the real men of Venezuela," said Mercedes Jimenez, as she waited
for an officer to sign her flag at the Plaza Altamira. "They have values and
honesty. They have everything. The other side is just shameless thieves."

The protest at the Plaza Altamira began in late October with 14 generals and
admirals, most of them part of a group that tried unsuccessfully to oust
Chavez in April. They said they have been joined by more than 140 other
military men who wanted to show solidarity with the coalition of civic
groups and parties that are seeking a nonbinding referendum on Chavez's

"Our objective is to work for consolidated action to bring about the
resignation of Hugo Chavez," said Gen. Enrique Medina Gomez, the
highest-ranking officer at the plaza. "It is not possible to reconcile
society as long as Hugo Chavez is president. He is a dictator."

On Friday, Medina and three other generals were ordered into early
retirement by an army council investigating the officers for their
involvement in the abortive coup.

Most of the officers sleep in donated apartments in the luxury high-rise
condominium buildings that ring the square. They take to the stage in
uniforms and warn crowds that Chavez wants nothing less than a Cuban-style

To the Chavistas at the Plaza Bolivar, the only thing the opposition is
risking is defeat. Miriam Bolivar contended that the opposition felt
threatened by Chavez's support for the poor.

"Here, Venezuela is not for a little group, but for all," she said. "Over
there, it is a small oligarchy. The truth is in the street."

People crowded around her, nodding in agreement. Many called themselves
revolutionaries, or at least backers of Chavez's "Bolivarian revolution."

"Hugo Chavez is our protector," said Maria Iglesias, who called herself a
"300 percent revolutionary." "The rich had stolen all the land. The poor
died of hunger. So this president gave land to the poor."

Few people in either plaza express hope that talks between the government
and the opposition will lead anywhere. "They would never come here to
discuss, only to kill," Bolivar said. "Dialogue and negotiation? No.
Democracy is not negotiated. They want blackmail. We are free and

Copyright (c) 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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