3 December 2006…
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 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 patrol, 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 reelection holds the potential for a second attempt. La Guardia is on high alert.
The gap is also 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’ tall walls and gates. No one raises any questions about our presence. 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. Fireworks intermittently burst in the sky and music, fast and loud with joyous choruses, pour from large black speakers. 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.
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 soldier. “Why is that gringo inside and we are not?”
Even if frustrated that they are being kept away from palace, the Chavistas are happy to be here.
Rain beings. Yet he music and fireworks only increase. Tonight is a party. The rain only adds to the sense of communality that has spread itself throughout the crowd. All that is felt is excitement and impatience. 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 the massive TV screens. Chavez is ahead. Chavez is almost certain to 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.”
Standing in the rain for at least an hour and a half, the Chavista’s enthusiasm never lessens. They scream for Chavez. They sing with the music and dance. They leap up and down, pushing themselves into the air, shaking their heads with their hands up high.
And then he appears.
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