Venezuela: Million-strong march to defend democracy and revolution

Supporters of the Bolivarian revolution march in Caracas, January 23. Photo from AVN, via

Venezuela's Vice-President Nicolas Maduro and government ministers marched with up to one million people on January 23 to defend the Bolivarian revolution, which has signficantly reduced poverty and promoted new forms of participatory democracy, on the country's Democracy Day.

The right-wing opposition march turned out to be a small rally. Further, sectors of the far right have called on the armed forces to resist what they referred to as the “invasion” of “Castro-communism” in Venezuela.

The marches commemorate 23 January 1958, when a civic-military movement overthrew the Marcos Jimenez dictatorship. However, this year the opposition first called a march for the date to reject what it has called the “unconstitutional” measures it says has been taken by the national government. President Hugo Chavez, re-elected for a new six-year term in October, wasn’t able to be present at his swearing-in ceremony on January 10 while he was recovering from an operation for cancer.

In response, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, a mass party led by Chavez, also called a large march, together with other movements and groups, with the slogan “The people will never be betrayed again”.

Marches for the Bolivarian Revolution in Caracas and around the country

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Caracas, leaving from three main points, and marching to the barrio 23 de Enero.

Vice-president of the Socialist Bolivarian Workers’ Central (CBST), Francisco Torrealba, said his group mobilised 35,000 people for the march to express their “commitment to the Bolivarian revolution”.

The Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) and Grand Patriotic Pole (GPP) contingents (which unites groups, such as the PCV, outside the PSUV that support the revolution) left from La Bandera station. The Bolivarian militia left from Propatria, with social missions and other movements and political organisations also leaving from all three points.

Maduro marched among the giant crowd from Propatria, waving to people around him and to people watching on from buildings. Other ministers and well known PSUV leaders also took part in the march.

Hundreds of community radios and other movements also participated in a “chain-marathon”, reporting on the march from all the main plazas of the different states around the country.

At about 1pm, when some of the marches had arrived at 23 de Enero, a short concert was held before historian Chela Vargas, journalist Jose Vincent Rangel and Maduro addressed the crowd. The people chanted continuously, “We’re all Chavez!” (Todos somos Chavez). Many carried placards saying the same thing, and some men even painted the slogan on their chest.

Vincent Rangelv told the crowd: “We have to be clear that 23 January is a symbol of a people who don’t give up”.

When it was Maduro's turn to speak, people chanted: “With Chavez and Maduro the people are secure.”

Maduro emphasised the significance of a people who “woke-up” after being tired of the “torture, disappearances, misery, lack of education, unemployment, and a state that was called ‘democratic’ but only had that name because the Venezuelan bourgeoisie called it that”, during the period following the overthrow of the dictatorship.

People who took part in the overthrow of Jimenez were on the Caracas stage. About 3000 police were set up around Caracas to ensure the march was peaceful and safe.

Arial footage of the Caracas march

Revolutionary collectives also rallied the day before in the 23 de Enero barrio to help build the march. One placard read, “23 January 1958: The people brought down a dictator. 40 years later: buried the 4th Republic. 55 years later: no pacts, no backing down”. The Fourth Republic refers to the Punto Fijo Pact, where major right-wing parties agreed to share power, until Chavez was elected in 1998.

“This date [23 January] has two readings; the end of a dictatorship, and also the betrayal of the right wing and the Pact of Punto Fijo,” said William Gudino, of the National Network of Communes, to Ciudad CCS.

“The people shouldn’t forget ... this vision of combat which represents us, and is also our reality,” Gudino said.

Other marches took place around the country. For the Andean city of Merida, with a population of just 300,000, it was the second large march in under a week. About 4000 people also marched on January 18 to defend Cuba after opposition students burned a Cuban flag and an effigy of Fidel Castro, and a similar number also marched on January 23.

For Hector Alejo Rodriguez, general secretary of the PCV youth, the aim of the marches was to “remember the important role the youth played in that battle 55 years ago to bring down the dictatorship”.

Opposition rally and far-right destabilisation attempts

Despite initially calling a march for the day, the opposition backtracked, and held a small rally of around 6000 people in sports courts of Miranda Park.

Speaking at the rally, the general secretary of the Roundtablke for Democratic Unity (MUD) opposition coalition, Ramon Aveledo read a 12 point manifesto to “defend Venezuela in a time of uncertainty” and said that should there be new presidential elections, the opposition would choose its candidate by “consensus”.

Opposition legislator Alfonso Marquina also announced the re-launching of the MUD, which he said would consist in “re-planning and rationalising” the organisation.

Public media, AVN, denounced the fact that one public television journalist, Carlos Cachon, was removed from the rally and beaten up. Media activists reported that he was taken to hospital with multiple injuries.

Just before the violence, Aveledo, who was still giving his speech, said “these people were sent by the government”, indicating the public sector journalists and film crew who had just entered the rally area.

PSUV leader Dario Vivas speculated that the opposition “don’t dare to march, they have realised the people don’t follow them”.

The day before, Vivas said opposition legislators were spreading a document addressed to the armed forces, calling on them to not support the government.

The document, called “Manifesto to democratic Venezuelan society and the National Armed Forces [sic- they are the Bolivarian Armed Forces]” opens with a preamble saying the Venezuelan government has “violated the constitution” on “repeated occasions” and that it is “subordinate” to the “Castro-communist regime of Cuba”.

The document makes claims that “the Cubans have slowly and progressively taken control of our...registers, system of identification, our foreign policy, and important sectors of the national economy”.

It also claims that “Castro-communism” is responsible for manipulation of the electoral system and that national finances, rather than resolving the country’s problems, are being used to “finance the expansion of Castro-communism”.

It talks about Venezuela as a “colony of Cuba” and suggests that the armed forces, “supported by all sectors of civil society” take steps forward and impede the “dissolution of the fatherland”.

The letter is signed by around 120 people so far, including a range of far right opposition legislators and leaders, such as Maria Corina Machado. Machado walked out of the recent annual review in the national assembly on January 15, and has been proven to have set up violent attacks against herself, in order to blame Chavez supporters.

The minister for justice and internal affairs, Nestor Reverol, said ultra-right sectors of the opposition were planning attacks on Maduro and on National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello. Reverol said state security organisations were alert and active in the case of “terrorist actions against these comrades”.

[Reprinted from Venezuela Analysis.]

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