Hundreds of thousands in Venezuela rally for rrevolution

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Jan 23 20:02:00 MST 2003


AFP (with additional material by Reuters and AP). 22 January 2003. Hundreds
of thousands demonstrate support for Chavez in Caracas.
CARACAS -- Chanting "Chavez won't go" and "Hey, hey, Chavez is here to
stay,"
several hundred thousand supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
rallied in Caracas on Thursday to back the defiant leftist leader who is
resisting an opposition strike battering the economy.
To the sound of throbbing drums and trilling whistles, followers of the
populist president marched from the east and the west of the capital to
converge on a downtown avenue.
The massive demonstration was a response to almost daily marches by foes of
President Hugo Chavez.
The demonstrators marched within a few hundred meters of Plaza Altamira, the
eastern Caracas square that has become symbolic of the anti-Chavez movement
since insurgent officers set up camp there late last year.
Despite initial tension, there were no immediate reports of incidents, as
the
Chavez supporters, known as "chavistas," marched along a four-lane highway
near the square.
"Once again, the lies have been uncovered -- they were saying this march
would end up in a huge attack on eastern Caracas," said Vice President Jose
Vicente Rangel, one of the demonstrators.
"This protest shows what the majority wants," he said, as the crowd chanted,
"Chavez won't go."
At the march, pro-Chavez lawmaker Nicolas Maduro denied violence was
planned.
"With their Nazi-fascist ideology, they have a racist view of the people, a
delinquent people," he said. "This is a dignified and decent people."
The demonstrators who set off from eastern Caracas were to meet up with
another march in downtown Caracas, a chavista stronghold.
"We are marching for peace and social justice," said retired rear-admiral
Hernan Gruber Odreman, who helped keep the demonstration orderly.
Many of the demonstrators waved palm-sized copies of the constitution and
wore red berets emblematic of Chavez, a former paratrooper.
Numerous marchers carried carried pictures of the 48-year-old president,
while one man dressed as legendary revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara took
out his cigar to join the crowd in chanting pro-Chavez slogans.
One group held aloft a sign saying "don't drink Coca-Cola" and a giant
cardboard replica of a bottle of the soft drink that has been unavailable as
a result of the strike launched on December 2.
"Chavez! Chavez!" chanted demonstrators at a bus terminal in southwestern
Caracas, one of two gathering points for marches that were to converge in a
central avenue. They also gathered at a park in the east side, setting off
earthshaking fireworks.
"The people are in the streets defending their democracy, defending the
revolution," Infrastructure Minister Diosdado Cabello told reporters as he
took part in the demonstration.
"We have to support our president ... he's the man the country needs,"
Chavez
supporter Atilio Mata, a 50-year-old grocer, told Reuters. He wore a red
beret, the symbol of former paratrooper Chavez's left-leaning movement.
The pro-Chavez demonstration came a day after the Supreme Court issued a
preliminary decision to call off the referendum the opposition planned to
hold on February 2 in a bid to force Chavez from office.
Chavez called the ruling "fair," adding that "it eliminates the terrible
uncertainty that was affecting the country."
The marches also marked the downfall of Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez, who was
deposed on Jan. 23, 1958, after a decade of iron-fisted rule. Four decades
of
democratic governments followed -- but "chavistas" believe Chavez, who was
elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2000, is the first president to stand up
for the interests of Venezuela's poor majority.
"Chavez is the only president that has really, really stood up for the
poor,"
said Jose Garcia, 65, a retired customs agent.




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