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martes, mayo 31, 2005

Seeing a coup behind every bush (and vice versa?)

Exciting times in Venezuela – if only in the land of rumor. In the last two weeks, I’ve twice heard rumors of a new coup against Chávez. Both false, of course, seeing that he’s speaking on a live TV broadcast as I write this. I suppose, having lived through a coup three years ago, folks are understandably nervous when faced with events that remind them of that time.

The most serious of the two rumors arose last weekend, when Chavez did not speak as anticipated at a march on Saturday, and then on Sunday cancelled his weekly “Hello, President” television show in favor of an international sports match. Suddenly, talk began spreading that something had happened. A small group of Chávez supporters gathered in front of the presidential residence Miraflores, demanding to see him and declaring that they wouldn’t leave until the chief of state appeared.

Highly placed government leaders made repeated statements that nothing was the matter, but activists remained waiting outside Miraflores throughout the night, and rumors multiplied: Chávez was ill, he was hiding from a planned assassination attempt, he’d been injured by a gunshot, he’d been kidnapped. Meanwhile, the family who I live with cautioned me not to stray too far from the house

What had actually happened was – nothing. Chávez appeared on national television Monday evening as part of the scheduled broadcast of the Council of Ministers. He said that Sunday he’d taken advantage of the cancellation of his weekly show to go visit his young daughter in the city of Barquisimeto. The protestors went home, their fears of a new coup quelled. And that was that.

But the possibility of an upset of power remains a widespread fear (or hope, perhaps, depending upon your politics). The week before last, as I was reading in my apartment (which is deep in opposition territory), a strange noise began to fill the night air. It was the sound of people banging on pots and pans, a form of protest called a “cacerolazo” and much utilized by the opposition. However, it’s apparently been some time since cacerolazos have taken place, and noone seemed to know what was happening. Family members turned on the TV but saw nothing. Meanwhile, a woman in a neighboring apartment yelled, “It’s a coup! It’s a coup!”

But a bit more channel-surfing turned up a live broadcast of Chávez, speaking on some regional issues, so the coup theory was hard to swallow. And fifteen minutes after it had begun, the cacerolazo stopped.

The next day I found some small articles about it in the newspapers, which are nearly all run by the opposition. They described “a discrete cacerolazo” in various parts of eastern Caracas, “discrete” being a polite way of saying “not many people showed up.”

The rally was called to protest political prisoners, a perennial opposition theme; to support television channel Globovisión; and to protest the charges of corruption being brought against the Mayor of Chacao, an opposition-controlled municipality of Caracas. I suspect that the latter was what motivated the protest in my area, small though it was. At any rate, hardly a cause for concern over the stability of the government.

But although there seems a tendency to overreact, the people of Venezuela do have a reason to be worried, based both on their own experiences of the past few years, and what historically has happened to Latin American nations who dared take a different path than that laid out by the U.S. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

When I used to live in Caracas some years ago every weekend there was a rumor of a coup by either side forthcoming. I used to know an afluent cuban exile family that used to routinely stock up on food supply, that was during the 1998 campaign mind you. Trendsetters I guess.
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