Travelling past El Calvario Park, just a few blocks from the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, we see a familiar image: an outline of late former president Hugo Chavez’s eyes, painted across several stairs.
This image can be seen all over Caracas. The government of President Nicholas Maduro has converted it into a recognisable trademark, much like the iconic image of Che Guevara that is splashed across T-shirts, flags and walls the world over.
The image can also be seen in homes throughout Caracas’s poorer neighbourhoods, where support for Chavez and the pro-poor Bolivarian Revolution he led was always strongest.
Together with the rest of the Venezuela Analysis solidarity delegation, we arrive at the Cuartel de la Montana (Mountain Barrack), where the remains of Commandante Hugo Chavez Frias are buried.
A colonel who had accompanied Chavez on many overseas visits met us there. We walked down the same path, lined with flags from different countries of the world, that world leaders such as former Argentine president Cristina Kirchner, former Uruguayan president Jose “Pepe” Mujica, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, among many others, had walked down.
From here, you have a view of Miraflores and the balcony from which Chavez celebrated many election nights and addressed mass rallies. Maduro decided to never use the balcony, but preserve it as a memorial to Chavez.
The barracks have various rooms where the life of Chavez is on display: from his childhood spent with his grandmother to his days playing baseball; from the unsuccessful military rebellion he led in February 1992 to the more well-known events of his 14 years as president (1999-2013).
Every two hours, there is a changing of the guard around Chavez’s marble cortege. In a moving ceremony, a patriotic song, accompanied with a bugle, is sung with the words, “Come, it’s time to defend the Homeland.”
We filed past the cortege and touched the marble surface in homage to the genius and humanity of Chavez. It was an overwhelming and sad moment for all.
We then visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where we met Vice-Minister for Africa Reinaldo Bolivar. He explained why Venezuela had recently left the Organisation of American States (OAS) due to the lies of OAS secretary Luis Almagro and his unconstitutional attempts to get the body to condemn Venezuela for supposedly undemocratic practices.
Bolivar emphasised that Venezuela is passing through one of the worst moments in its history, with the US trying to destabilise the country and discredit the Maduro government. It is funding the opposition to bring about regime change and impose a new government servile to US interests.
Bolivar said he does not believe the US will send marines to invade Venezuela, given that international condemnation would be too high. Instead, he said the US hopes that its economic blockade on Venezuela would bring the country to a breaking point. Then, US President Donald Trump could use right-wing governments in Colombia and Brazil to invade Venezuela.
The delegation also visited the Centre of African, Caribbean and American Wisdoms. Chavez created the centre to study the influence of Africa on Venezuelan culture and to understand the history of slavery in the Caribbean.
Educators Oscar Godoy and Carmen Gonzalez told us that 70% of Venezuelans are of African descent. About 3 million slaves had passed through Venezuela’s Margarita Island.
Being Black continues to be a great stigma in Venezuela. During the recent wave of violent right-wing protests, several people were set alight by opposition protests because they were Black.
Both Chavez and Maduro have maintained strong support among Black Venezuelans, who, despite important gains in recent years, tend to make up the poorer sectors of society.
The Centre has an extensive library and photos of inspiring African leaders, many of who were assassinated by imperialist governments.
We also travelled to the offices of the Latin America-wide TV station TeleSUR, located in the east of Caracas.
TeleSUR president Patricia Villegas said the TV station’s 1000-strong staff get little sleep as they seek to provide news 24 hours a day.
TeleSUR looks for different angles to tell the truth. During the World Cup in 2014, TeleSUR broadcast a show hosted by Argentine football legend Diego Maradona, which was a smash hit and had higher ratings than some World Cup matches.
Villegas said TeleSUR is constantly trying to bring “the best stories, the best photos, the best quality television”, which has taken a lot of patience, perseverance and determination from its journalists, but has been a worthwhile effort.
[Coral Wynter is a member of the Australian-Venezuela Solidarity Network. This is the second in a series of articles looking at her experience as part of the Venezuela Analysis solidarity delegation.]