AP: 500,000 oppose Chavez recall in Caracas

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Aug 23 20:57:11 MDT 2003

I find the presentation in this AP article to be almost
unprecedentedly accurate and therefore pro-Chavez in its presentation
of events in Venezuela.
Fred Feldman

Chavez supporters stage mass march in response to opposition drive for
Venezuelan referendum

STEPHEN IXER, Associated Press Writer Saturday, August 23, 2003

(08-23) 16:51 PDT CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) --

President Hugo Chavez celebrated the midpoint of his six-year term
Saturday by telling hundreds of thousands of supporters he would not
bow to efforts to oust him through the ballot box.

As many as 500,000 supporters gathered on a downtown avenue, according
to Caracas fire officials, to hear Chavez and to rebuff an opposition
push for a referendum on Chavez's rule. Organizers claimed as many as
3 million people were present.

"Victory is ours, whatever the cost!" Chavez told the cheering crowd.
"We are prepared for any sacrifice to fulfill our promise to
Venezuela. Long live the revolution!"

Many wore red shirts and berets identifying them with Chavez's
"Bolivarian Revolution," a left-wing movement the president and his
backers claim is aimed at redressing the inequalities of wealth in
oil-rich Venezuela.

They accompanied the president in singing "Happy Birthday, Bolivarian

Streams of "Chavistas" blew whistles, danced to drum beats and set off
fireworks as they marched through streets and highways before
converging on Bolivar Avenue ahead of Chavez's speech.

"I'm celebrating these three years of government. Chavez is a good man
and he's helping us poor people -- and the poor are the majority,"
said Dilia Martinez, 43, who rode a bus for 10 hours from the state of
Monagas to join the gathering.

Chavez's opponents staged a mass march Wednesday to deliver more than
2 million signatures demanding a recall referendum on the president's
rule. They say his government has lost popularity by dividing the
population and increasing poverty.

Still, the president retains support, particularly among the country's
huge underclass.

"We are poor and we back the president," said Yaritza Alfaro, a
38-year-old housewife who says the opposition push for an early vote
on Chavez's rule would not succeed. "We won't permit a referendum."

Venezuela has suffered almost two years of intense political turmoil
under Chavez, including an April 2002 coup attempt, a two-month
general strike earlier this year and several one-day work stoppages.

The economy has been gripped by recession and unemployment has topped
20 percent, according to government figures. More than half the work
force are employed in the informal economy as street vendors and house
cleaners, for example.

Chavez's policies, meanwhile, have been directed at improving the lot
of the poor majority. As part of a deal to supply oil to Fidel
Castro's Cuba, Venezuela has imported hundreds of Cuban doctors to
work for free in the hillside shanty towns surrounding Caracas.

Thousands of illiterate adults are getting free reading and writing
classes using methods developed in Cuba.

The government has also handed out land titles to rural peasants and
some urban squatters. Indigenous people have gained unprecedented
constitutional rights, including the right to own their land.

But the opposition says Chavez is trying to install Castro-style
communism. They claim policies such as strict exchange controls are
permanently damaging the economy and his fiery rhetoric against
globalization has spooked investors.

Chavez denies the charges. He blames the wealthy elite and corrupt
remnants of previous governments for using their influence to try to
topple him from power.

"Those coup-plotters won't let Chavez govern. Things might be better
now if they'd given him a chance," said Jose Leon, a gap-toothed
fisherman from the eastern state of Anzoategui sporting a red beret at
the march.

©2003 Associated Press

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