A Book….A Rough First Chapter…
Helsinki-The writing of my book is progressing. With the help of a little late night Twittering I’ve decided to post what is the working, ie rough draft of what will be the first or perhaps one of the first sections of what will eventually be incorporated into the book I’m writing on a twenty-five month trip I made as a university student/photojournalist to various countries that, for one reason or the other, frequently find themselves in the news…
December 3rd, 2006…
The color is massed down Caracas’s roads and alleyways and is blocking off entrances and is heaving. A way around is necessary. A way to get a perspective that is both close and at the front…the only way to be…
To achieve this, Manuel reroutes the motorcycle around the mass, circling the cordoned off Miraflores presidential palace until he notices a narrow gap between a wooden police barrier and the palace wall. The gap is just wide enough to allow la guardia, the national guard troops that are stationed at intervals up and down the streets and sidewalks, to pass through one by one as they go about their patrols, protecting the palace from large threats have been declared to originate both abroad and domestically: Hugo Chavez Frias, the democratically elected president of Venezuela, has already had one attempt to overthrow him carried out. The chaos surrounding the night of his re-election holds the potential for a second. La guardia is on high alert.
Despite this supposed high level of vigilance, the gap between the police barrier and the wall is just wide enough to allow through a small motorcycle.
So, without slowing or giving any prior warning, Manuel points the front tire at the gap and blasts through, passing la guardia, their green uniforms and stern faces scowling in the dark, and roars up in front of the palace and parks, slamming down the motorcycle’s kickstand and looking around.
Police and guardia mill around Miraflores’ walls. As usual, once inside, no one raises any questions. There is too much going on. Massive TV screens are being set up in the middle of the road to broadcast pro-government television as the last of the election’s ballots are counted. Further down, at the corner of the palace wall, the mass of red is crushing itself against the barriers that have been erected across the middle of the road. Fireworks intermittently burst in the sky and music, fast and loud with joyous choruses, pour from speakers.
These are the Chavistas. Hugo Chavez’s strongest supporters. They are out in the thousands, filling the streets, packed in wearing red shirts and caps. They are pressing and shoving against the barricades, trying to get closer, to be the first inside when Chavez allows.
“We want to see Chavez!” they yell. “Where is Chavez? Get out of the way!”
Pointing at me in disgust one man yells at a policeman. “Why is that gringo inside and we are not?”
While frustrated at being kept away from the palace, all the same the Chavistas are happy to be here.
It starts to rain, but the music and fireworks only increase. Tonight is a party. The rain only adds to the sense of communality that has spread itself through the crowd. All that is felt is excitement and impatience. After all, Chavez, he brings people together. The Venezuelan people, they want to see their president.
“Chavez!” they scream at the palace walls. “Chavez!”
The straining locks that are holding the barricades in place are suddenly removed.
I begin backpedalling.
The Chavistas surge.
It is seconds before the first Chavista, a red shirted, red capped boy of about seventeen, passes me. Flipping around, I sprint as the mass fills the street that was empty only seconds before. The Chavista’s momentum carries us inside the palace walls into the courtyard below the People’s Balcony, a recently completed Chavez ordered addition to Miraflores where he will make his victory speeches, of which he expects many.
Below the balcony the Chavistas pack themselves in tighter and tighter and continue their cry:
By now the rain is coming down very hard. The thousands of people waiting for Chavez are drenched. Everyone is screaming. The incoming results of the election are being broadcast on TV. Chavez is ahead. Chavez is almost certain win. But everyone knows this. They are waiting for the confirmation of what is already sure.
The music picks up. The Chavistas sing along: “The pueblo…Yes sir…They are not going back… We are able not to go back…They are not going back…They are not going back…They are not going back.”
They stand in the rain for at least an hour and half, but the Chavista’s enthusiasm never lessens. They scream for Chavez. They sing with the music and dance. They leap up and down, pushing themselves in the air, shaking their heads with their hands up in the air.
And then he appears…
-all words and photographs copyright Justin Vela http://www.justinvela.com