Tens of thousands of supporters of the opposition marched and assembled in Caracas today, exactly one week before elections are due to take place. The atmosphere was peaceful, and people cheered as Henrique Capriles was lifted through the crowd.
It made me think about accusations I have read about ‘dictatorship’ in Venezuela. It really is a strange type of dictatorship that allows many thousands of opposition supporters to gather, march and wave their flags. It is a strange type of censorship that allows the entire demonstration to be broadcast, live, via the private media that is funded by very rich businessmen. I couldn’t see any police, armed or un-armed, in the vicinity; what an usual form of ‘repression’ they have here in Venezuela! At one point, a police helicopter hovered above the crowd amassed below, and everyone started blowing their horns and waving towards the sky. Not exactly what I would describe as living in fear.
Nevertheless, something must have prompted such a large demonstration. In the UK, people in that number coming out into the street would be something historic, but here, they have come out for a politician who is predicted to lose the upcoming Presidential election. On Thursday, Hugo Chavez is set to round-up his electoral campaign, also in Caracas. It will be interesting to compare; not only in terms of turn-out, but also in the spirit and attitude of the people. At today’s march, people selling large quantities of beer were visible throughout. When we tried to take a photograph, however, we were told not to.
The numbers on both sides of the campaign makes one thing plainly clear; there is something at stake in Venezuela. The people have said goodbye to the concept of “pacted democracy” – the choice of voting for two parties with near-identical policies, long since buried over here, but still alive and well in the UK – and they do not want it back. The opposition say they want to unite the country, but poor people have experienced the type of ‘unity’ that denies their existence, let alone their right to live a dignified life, many times before.
There were a lot of people out in Caracas today, and they seem to believe that ‘there is a way’. ‘Hay un Camino’. But, if their candidate disappoints next Sunday, will they accept the result?