[News] Hugo Chávez supporters stage inauguration day rally for absent leader

Anti-Imperialist News 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
    * http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/10/hugo-chavez-inauguration-day-absent

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 
election victory.

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 
to Miraflores.

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 
without Chavez."

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 
welcome him."

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