[News] Hugo Chávez supporters stage inauguration day rally for absent leader
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 10 16:18:18 EST 2013
Hugo Chávez supporters stage inauguration day rally for absent leader
President too ill to attend scheduled swearing-in ceremony but
supporters turn out to declare 'We are all Chávez'
Virginia López in Caracas and Jonathan Watts
* The Guardian <http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian>, Thursday 10
January 2013 14.52 EST
The day was scheduled for an inauguration celebration. It could easily
have become an occasion for mourning, possibly even a day of conflict.
Instead there was a peaceful rally for a missing president, Hugo Chávez
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/hugo-chavez>, and a giant question mark
over what happens next.
With flags, banners, klaxons and vuvuzelas, more than 100,000 Chávez
supporters thronged in the streets outside Venezuela
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/venezuela>'s presidential palace,
Miraflores, and filled the air with noise, colour and emotion as if to
make up for the gap left by the man who has dominated this space for the
past 14 years.
Wearing the emblematic red shirts of the ruling party, and clutching
posters printed with their leader's image and the slogan "We are all
Chávez!", the crowd made their way to the same balcony where three
months ago they celebrated with their president after his fourth
This time, however, Chávez was 1,300 miles away in a Cuban hospital bed.
He has been missing from public life for a month, since he underwent
emergency cancer surgery. His current condition is uncertain.
The government says he is suffering from a severe respiratory infection;
it has not said whether he is conscious. One thing is certain: the
president was too ill to attend his swearing-in ceremony.
"We are here to be sworn into office in place of our president who
wasn't able to attend. We will wait for him as long as it is necessary,"
said Mariela Rodriguez, a teacher. "God will bring him back to us healed".
The organisers said they wanted a mood that was sad but strong. Both
elements were evident, but so was uncertainty. "People are worried and
praying to God for his prompt return, but it's hard because we don't
know what is happening," said Estefania D'Stefano who owns a shop close
Chávez's six-year term is up and another is supposed to begin, but the
formal shift has become formless. After weeks of political wrangling,
the ruling party announced this week that the inauguration would be
delayed to allow more time for Chávez to recover. How long was left unclear.
Despite a fierce debate in the national assembly, and opposition
accusations of a "constitutional coup", the postponement has been
endorsed by the supreme court, the legislature and the military.
Thursday's demonstration was called to show that the public and regional
leaders were also behind it.
On the eve of the rally, Diosdado Cabello, head of the national assembly
and a longtime Chávez ally, called on the public to bring along symbols
of presidential power as a show of solidarity.
"Anyone who has a sash, bring it along, because tomorrow the people will
be invested as president of the republic, because the people are
Chávez," he said. "All of us here are Chávez, the people in the street
are Chávez, the lady who cooks is Chávez, the comrade who works as a
watchman is Chávez, the soldier is Chávez, the woman is Chávez, the
farmer is Chávez, the worker is Chávez; we're all Chávez."
In response, supporters wore T-shirts emblazoned with "Yo soy Chávez" (I
am Chávez), and street vendors sold satin sashes like those the
president would have worn to be sworn into office.
Devotees reiterated the leadership's message. "I've noticed that the
people and all the ministers have become more united, because we have
understood that it is through unity that we can safeguard the
revolution. We will wait for [the] president as long as we need to,"
said Amarilis Gutierrez, a co-ordinator of a refuge in Miraflores.
The crowd was smaller and more muted than the giant campaign rallies of
past years, a sign both of the mood of concern among Chávez supporters
and the absence of anyone who could come close to him in terms of
charisma and pulling power.
But there was criticism too among passersby that the country had been
left rudderless. "He has a right to recover, but we cannot wait for two
years for Chávez to come back," said Noryelin Alarcon, a legal
assistant. "The government feels paralysed. Nothing here gets done
The ruling party has tried to emphasise continuity of leadership:
Chávez, it says, is still in power, though the day-to-day running of the
country is largely being carried out by his vice-president and political
heir apparent, Nicolás Maduro.
Fringe rightwing groups called for a civic strike on Thurday, but the
mainstream opposition has rejected conflict. Henrique Capriles, the
defeated opposition candidate in the last presidential election, said he
would not ask supporters to take to the streets, but called instead on
the international community not to recognise the "unconstitutional act"
by the government.
That appeal looked likely to fall on deaf ears, particularly given the
strong regional support for Chávez, who is a figurehead of the left.
Several Latin American leaders are visiting Caracas, including Uruguay's
José Mujica, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.
Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, has telephoned Maduro, and her
government has recognised that a delay of up to 180 days is allowable
under the Venezuelan constitution.
The US has kept a public distance from the political fray. "We hope that
any transiton in Venezuela be democratic, legal, constitutional and
transparent, a state department spokesman told the Spanish news agency EFE.
What happens next will depend on whether Chávez can recover and the
ruling camp maintain its unity under Maduro. The alternatives were
almost too much for many of those on the rally to contemplate.
"I have never seen such a special leader," said Zayda Prieto, a
construction worker. "I came here today because we are all Chávez. I
will give him all the time he needs to recover... In the next weeks
we'll have him back and I will be back here in this same place to
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