Nicolas Maduro is the man about town these days in Caracas. After opposition slurs pertaining to his past occupation as a bus driver, he turned up to formally register as a candidate for the upcoming Presidential elections driving a double-decker. In fact, the opposition may not realise that their criticisms are actually Maduro’s strength. Is it not right for political leaders to be drawn from the ordinary people of the country they are supposed to represent? Capriles (remember that guy who lost against Chavez last time round) announced that he is not the opposition, but the solution. He certainly doesn’t seem to be the solution for the opposition, but we will have to wait and see.
Just days later, Maduro was in the capital speaking at the opening of the ninth annual literary festival, FILVEN, which bore the heart-warming slogan ‘Long Live Reading’. It made me wonder at the hilarity of the concept of David Cameron speaking at such an event in London, but then I realised that Cameron doesn’t have anything interesting to say and for that reason is better off avoiding the embarrassment. However, one announcement made by Maduro did stand out; his warning that elements of the far-right in the United States were planning an assassination attempt against Capriles, his electoral opponent. According to Maduro, Roger Noreiga and Otto Reich are amongst the figures involved; the naming of Reich is an immediate reminder of the attempted coup d’etat against Chavez’ government in 2002, and both have a long history of involvement of un-invited intervention in the affairs of Latin American countries.
Caracas is a very large city, located in the heart of mountains, and very much divided along lines of wealth. Driving up into the hills of the east of the city on Sunday afternoon, I was in for somewhat of a surprise. An immense building, overlooking the entire east of the city and surrounded by expansive land, fences to keep out any unwanted visitors and there, fluttering in the breeze, the flag of the United States. The US still don’t have an ambassador in Venezuela, but they do have an embassy, and here it was. The imposing grounds were a striking reminder of the way things must have been before. Literally looking down on the city, you don’t need many guesses to work out who was in charge.
The US’ influence in Latin America is dwindling, to the relief of humanity, and thanks to the rise of governments and people determined to re-assert the sovereignty of their nations, but this doesn’t stop the White House’s urge to pontificate on events in any and every part of the globe whenever they see fit. The US’ Assistant Secretary of State, Roberta Jackson, proclaimed at the end of last week that “open, fair and transparent elections” would be “a little difficult” in Venezuela. The head of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council [CNE] responded by asking how the United States demanded international observers for elections in other countries, but refused them for their own elections?
On Monday morning, Maduro was repeating his warning of plans led by sectors of the extreme right in the US called the “Hawks” to attack Capriles. Again adding the names of Noreiga and Reich, Maduro said:
“Stop this madness, President Barack Obama. There are factors in the Pentagon and the CIA immersed in actions of destabilisation. If you make a minimal investigation you will see that is how it is.”
It is worth remembering the expulsion of two US military attaches from Venezuela on March 5th, on the very same day that Hugo Chavez passed away. As the article in a Caracas daily announcing Maduro’s comments on Monday also noted, it would not be the first attempts of destabilisation against the country, recalling the group of Colombian paramilitaries detained in El Hatillo, on the outskirts of Caracas, in 2004.
On Sunday we continued our drive up past the embassies towards the Mirador. From here, the views of the city and Mount Avila beyond are stunning, but there is something missing from the frame. There is not a single barrio in sight. Petare, to the east of the city, is behind another hill, and the whole west side of the city is shielded from view. The great majority, literally hidden. Apartments sell for millions here and only in US dollars, because bolivars are not accepted. People dine at Domino’s Pizza, and seeing poor people on the horizon would just ruin their appetites. For certain interests within and without the country, this is the Venezuela they remember and miss.