I naively left home this morning with a simple plan: Go to work, stay until the middle of the march went by my building, come back finish what I had to do, go home. I had my two weapons :my camera and my cell phone. No need to take my tear gas mask. Not only has it been quite a while since I have needed, but it would seem such a bad moment to use force against us.
Not only is the G-15 (really G-6 today, G-3 by tomorrow), but the world is watching how Chavez handles the petition for the recall referendum. These naďve thoughts crossed my mind despite having seen the pictures of the military deployment surrounding the theater where the G-15 meeting is taking place. Thanks to William for telling us in the comments that a good set of pictures of the Government’s preparations are here. This is what I saw yesterday but really, I was not intimidated, or thought much would happen today.
As I work in the morning I keep watch on the events. The March itself I don’t have to pay attention to. The march goes right by my building so I will know exactly when to join it. The theater where the G-15 meeting is taking place is surrounded by the military, these are not just soldiers, and there are tanks, small vehicles and guns all over the place on all sides. I guess Mogabe must have lots of enemies.
As usual, the opposition can not get even close to the theater where it wants to hand in a letter to those attending about the steps taken by the Chavez Government to stop their Constitutional rights to a referendum on the President’s matter. Not even a delegation is allowed to get close to it. Thus, I am surprised when pro-Chavez groups are not only allowed to get close to the theater, but are actually surrounding it in such a way that you see lots of green military uniforms and lots of red t-shirts of Chavez supporters.
Amazingly, that pitiful character German Mundarain, the People’s Ombudsman (PO), appears on TV telling us that the Chavistas are allowed to be there because all they want is to salute the foreign visitors, while the opposition wants violence. Not only that, but he appears to define spaces for the two different Venezuelans. We are simply not equal in the eyes of the man supposed to defend our rights. He mentions that the opposition is talking about “rebellion”, leaving me wondering what this guy has in his brains, if anything. This is 10 AM, the march has not started.
After the PO, Teodoro Petkoff comes on. I wished he was saying more than his Editorials, but I have no time to listen, I have to work, later a friend calls from the States while I am at the march and reads me Teodoro’s statements in El Universal;
“The military deployment is a show of political weakness”. “The regimen can not have a confrontation with its own people” “ people are marching, they do not intend to take over the theater” The right to demonstrate is guaranteed by the Constitution”” Only with the military deployment those visiting us have seen that there is a profound crisis and a President with no legitimacy in front of his people”.
And the usually balanced Petkoff adds:
“I think that we have to persist in the protest using all instances and I am sure that we are not in the definite moment of the fight, but that there will be new moments for it”
Heady stuff to hear while you are marching and getting tear gassed, but I am getting ahead of myself.
As I ignore Petkoff, the march goes by my building in Avenida Francisco de Miranda. It is always such a sight to see the men and the women, the young and the old, marching, posters and flags in hands. Today there is a difference though. There is less singing, less chanting. People are like really marching, moving fast with lots of determination. Only the trucks with the sound system drown the noise of the crowd marching and slows it down in the process.
I have barely seen the front of the march go by, when TV stations switch to Mariperez some four-five miles away. There ,a dozen people hang around, you see reporters on the floor taking pictures and suddenly, tear gas canisters are flying around, a person is taken injured on a motorcycle and I am wondering what the Hell is going on. As I see the blood on the person which turned out to be a reporter, I get mad, get up and leave to join the marchers.
The mood is festive as I join. I see two older people in their wheelchair marching along. Most people carry signs alluding to their signature in the petition. These two are cool:
(Someone sent the second one). As we got closer to the end, where the military is, things slow down. People are talking about lots of tear gas, so I see a street vendor selling medical masks and I get one for Bs. 2,000 ($1 at the official rate), before the end of the afternoon the price actually doubled.
The adrenaline begins flowing as I get up close. It is different to see the National Guard up close than on TV, they have these vests that make them look like Robocop, which you can see in the post below.
I begin taking pictures. The Guards seem to be staying back as I do, then all of a sudden and without warning, they begin throwing the heaviest barrage of tear gas canisters I have seen in my life. It is very nasty, they are not throwing it to keep us back, and they are throwing it over our heads so that canisters fall in the middle of the crowd. People panic, fall to the ground, some vomit. Everyone helps each other. Then they get up, get some air and go back. At one point I could barely breath.
This is what is different this time around people are really pissed (arrechos in Venezuelan slang) I see men, women, more men than women. But I also see older ladies, there is black, white, mestizo and whatever. Some oligarhs too. Everyone is crying, people are sharing the Menthol, the Vinegar, taking care of those on the ground. The whole Avenida Libertador is full of people. They go back, rest and come back.
In a while the National Guard strategy becomes fairly simple, they allow us to get ahead, the helicopter goes by, tells them where we are, and they attack. The wind helps them as the gas is blown right towards us. People begin building barricades (see pictures below). At some point (no time for checking my watch) the wind shifts. The Guards throw the canisters but it blows right back to them. We hold our ground for quite a while.
There are all sorts of rumors during the march; Lula has left in disgust, other demonstrations and rallies somewhere else, even some Generals rising against the Government in the West of the country. Reportedly the CNE may be reconsidering how to fix the problem with the forms with the same calligraphy for the data.
As the battle continues, the wind shifts again. I notice the helicopter go by and the nastiest attack takes place. This time around motorcycles attack us, two guards on each, throwing canisters all over the place. People actually panic, there is no place to run, the gas is nasty, I mean really nasty! Hard to breath, many ladies on the floor. Not much help, everyone is doing badly and the canisters keep coming. The wind shifts and that gives people some real breathing room. Most people do not go back back this time around. The motorcycles introduces something that is dangerous to fight. The hardcore stay until after dark. Most marchers leave.
Afterwards I learn that the strongest attack took place just when all TV stations were forced to transmit Chavez’s speech in front of the G-15. What a coward! Fortunately, the TV stations tape it for everyone to see. An hour and a half later I get back to my office; there is Chavez in an expensive suit, with an expensive watch in the luxury of the theater talking about justice, fairness and the people. I think of Nero playing the harp as Rome burned. He looks just like that. Pathetic. All he has done in the last five years is introduce a Constitution which he has little respect for. Even the use of chemicals is banned in it. (Thanks Alfredo!). And the right to peaceful protest is guaranteed. Check it, it is in there somewhere. (Even though I hate it, it’s the only one we have, so I read it a lot, it’s the law!)
By now, TV stations are showing tapes of the biggest acts of repression. Then the Attorney General goes on TV and says it is all the oppositions fault. He has said nothing about the application of the law by the CNE and our signatures, but he is quick to the gun on this issue. Impunity is the name of the game. The Minsiter of the Interior of Justice, the big Pinocchio of April 2002, says the same thing. Imaine he says. People were actually insulting the Guards. This can’t be!. Insulting people deserved to be gssed. What is the penalty for the lie he told us in April 2002 that Chavez had resigned? At least a lobotomy or lower. I agree with Gen. Rincon. This can’t be. People should not have to wave flasg at the National Guard, or ask for tehir rights, or even insult them or throw stones. But it is. And it will continue until we get our rights back.
It was simply another day. Rough, but somehow, I have a sense of accomplishment. We were peaceful. They weren’t. Chavez meant the G-15 meeting to be his showcase. It wasn’t. The military repression surrounded them. Only Mugabe could have been proud of the display of force. Lula and Kirschner have been on the side of the repressed, they could not have been happy. Unfortunately people died or are hurt. So we also lost, one death or injured is one too many. Imagine a simple alternative: A committee of the opposition is allowed to go forward meet with Lula or whomever, hand in the document and we could have all been home by 2 PM. Too easy for the minds of fascists.
I thank Daniel for actually worrying about my whereabouts so much that he posted about it, and for the many that sent e-mails asking if I was OK, including you Mari, so far away in space and time. We are just OK, it was not simply just another day.