On November 23, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, visiting Madrid, attended a mass meeting of workers. This account of the astonishing event was written by El Militante member Emilia Lucena. It first appeared at <http://venezuela.elmilitante.org>.
It is nearly five o'clock. A shy autumn sun bathes the Prado Avenue on our way to the headquarters of the Workers' Commissions (CCOO) in Madrid. When we arrive there are already more than 300 people queuing to get into the meeting hall. They patiently wait to attend the meeting with Chavez which is scheduled for 7pm.
There is chaos. Lope de Vega is a narrow street and more and more people arrive to attend the meeting. The hall stewards are overwhelmed, some of them surprised by the enormous attendance, some ask what is the matter with Chavez and some even ask who Chavez is. The police officers cannot understand and do not know what attitude to adopt. One of them tries to show that he is in charge, and demonstrates the usual arrogant and contemptuous attitude of the police, but nobody pays any notice. They are all either sufficiently happy or enthused with the prospect of meeting Chavez, and are not prepared to fall into any provocations. During the nearly two-hour wait, the queue breaks into singing and shouting of slogans in defence of the Venezuelan revolution and its president.
It is nearly 7pm when the doors open, and the human tide is allowed in, in groups of five. We must go through a metal detector. It is just four days since the Venezuelan state prosecutor investigating those involved in the April 11 coup was assassinated in a terrorist attack. Nobody complains. We all understand the need to take all necessary security measures. We are aware that the international counter-revolution has set its sights on Chavez.
Slowly the meeting hall fills up. There is the shouting of slogans and the singing of songs. We are shown a video about the Venezuelan revolution. Some singers and musicians go on stage to entertain the people before Chavez's arrival
A terrible moment. It is announced that the president will not come. It is 8.30pm. The audience is stunned. Disillusionment runs through all those present, but it is agreed that the meeting will continue. We want to show our support for the revolution, but the mood has changed from one of enthusiasm to a disheartened one. We wanted to listen to Chavez, the leader of the Venezuelan revolution.
William Lara, the former president of the Venezuelan National Assembly and a member of parliament, addresses the audience. His speech does not connect. He says that Venezuela is a paradise for investment for Spanish businesses. There is a stunned, and a little bit angry silence. These are the same businesses that exploit us day in and day out. We know they are not going to create wealth in Venezuela, in the same way they do not create wealth for the people here. William Lara continues with his speech and at the end adds, like an afterthought, that this investment will not have the same exploitive character as in the past.
The question everybody is asking themselves is: does William Lara really know what employers are? Does he know that their profits come from our exploitation?
While Lara speaks a rumour makes the rounds: "Chavez is coming." First it is just in the front rows, then moves throughout the hall. Nobody pays much attention to anything apart from whether Chavez is coming or not. From the stage nothing is said about this, William Lara continues to speak. At the end a powerful voice from the audience says: "Chavez is coming." There is a spontaneous ovation. The mood is cheerful again. Now the musicians go on stage and we all sing along and clap to the songs.
Later we found out what had happened. A group of people, led by Manolo Espinar of the Haydee Santamaria organisation and J.M. Municio from El Militante, had gone to the Circulo de Bellas Artes, where Chavez was meeting a group of intellectuals and actors, and explained to him that 1500 workers and youth were waiting for him in the CCOO meeting hall. When Chavez found out that we were waiting, he did not hesitate: "I am going over there, even if it is just to give a 15-minute greeting." As he himself said later: "Thank you, you have rescued me from the intellectuals to bring me to the workers."
The hours go by and he still does not arrive. Nobody leaves. Now and then the news is confirmed: despite the delay, Chavez is coming. We are waiting. Messages of support are read to the meeting. At the beginning two were read from the Alliance of Anti-imperialist Intellectuals and another one from Culture against War. Then they read the one from the Sindicato de Estudiantes, which was interrupted by ovations twice. Then, in between the songs, others are read: from the Communist Party, the Red Current, El Militante, the international Hands Off Venezuela Campaign.
We sing some songs. The whole room has raised fists as "The Internationale" comes out of our throats like the shout of revolutionary struggle, solidarity and proletarian internationalism.
At last, at 10.30pm, after waiting for more than five hours, Chavez arrives! The enthusiasm is overwhelming. There is a standing ovation and raised fists as we greet him.
He is standing on stage. He is obviously tired but also moved by the greeting and the enthusiasm overfilling the hall. He apologises for the delay, and starts by reciting a poem by Spanish revolutionary poet Garcia Lorca.
He begins to address the crowd. He talks about the revolution, the oppressed, the oligarchy and imperialism that organised the coup in April 2002, how he thought he was going to be shot dead, and how the soldiers, arms in hand, avoided it. "There, facing the death squad, I thought of Che ... how men die". He explains how thousands and thousands of workers, the poor, surrounded the Miraflores Palace defending the revolution.
"They tried once and failed, and if they tried again they would fail again, because in Venezuela the arms are in the hands of the soldiers, who are part of the people". He mentions the coup against Allende: "the Chilean revolution failed because it was a peaceful and unarmed revolution. The Bolivarian revolution is peaceful... but armed." The audience begins to shout, fists raised again, "El pueblo armado, jam s ser aplastado" (the people, armed, will never be smashed).
Now he talks about the money from state oil company PDVSA, which is being used for social programs, and he mentions Cuba and the Cuban doctors. There is another standing ovation and shouts of "Chavez, Fidel y el Che".
He talks about the democratic revolution in Venezuela, of how the people support the revolution. He talks of the peoples of Latin America. "If [Simon] Bolivar lived today, he would be a socialist." He also mentions Marx. Incidentally, on his way in, he stopped to browse at the bookstall of El Militante. He spoke to the comrades. We want to give him the books he has chosen as a present, amongst them several by Alan Woods, Ted Grant and Leon Trotsky, but he insists he wants to pay for them. At the end he accepts Alan Woods' Bolshevism, the Road to Revolution as a gift.
He now talks about the workers and the need for unity. "There is a socialist international and a Christian democratic international. Why can't we form a democratic and revolutionary international? Unite all the oppressed peoples, the workers, the indigenous peoples." There is another standing ovation.
He develops the idea: "The working class must be the vanguard of the revolution ... It should not only concern itself with immediate or wage demands, which are necessary and must be fought for, but it must also look beyond, to the transformation of society as a whole". The enthusiasm is overwhelming. "Long live the working class", and "the working class has no borders" are slogans that become alive and are shouted by the whole audience as one.
During the speech, standing up, he has been given cups of coffee, which he drank. It has been a very packed day. He was at the Complutense University, where the students also received him with enthusiasm, surpassing all expectations. He met with Spain's president, Jos Luis Rodr¡guez Zapatero, with artists and intellectuals in the Circulo de Bellas Artes, and then at 10.30pm he met with the workers. The best part of it is, he snubbed a meeting with big business. Today the media complain and say this is not acceptable because he snubbed a meeting with 200 "business leaders". Today, workers understand more who Chavez is and the support he receives from Venezuelan workers.
It is past 11.30pm and finally he says goodbye. As he leaves the hall, as when he came in, there is a standing ovation. We are all shouting, "the revolution forward, forward, and those who do not like it, will have to stand it".
Despite the bodyguards and the security measures, when he comes out he is surrounded by a sea of hands showing their solidarity and support for the Venezuelan revolution. He is extremely polite, tactful and educated, and in an impossible attempt, he tries to greet and talk to all those who come close to him. He understands that this show of solidarity reflects the desire of workers to show, through him, to the workers and the oppressed in Venezuela, the hopes that their revolution has raised amongst workers and youth around the world.
From Green Left Weekly, December 1, 2004.
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