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Demonstration of the Opposition in Venezuela: Strength and Peacefulness

By Michael Lingenthal, Regional CEO of Venezuela's Konrad Adenauer Foundation

Caracas, February 15th, 2004 - The Opposition has accomplished without doubt, through their well assisted and peaceful demonstration, a clear point victory against president Chavez and impressively proved not to be after a senseless confrontation. Furthermore they are willing to wait until February 29th [moved to March 15th]. Then it shall be announced by the Election Committee how many of the 3.4 million signatures against Chavez will be valid for the revoking referendum 2.4 million are needed and opposition members are absolutely convinced having reached the required figure.

250.000 people filled the city highway of Caracas to reinforce on February 14th their demand for a revoking referendum against president Chavez. 250.000 demonstrators, this is the lowest of the available estimates about participation. The Professional Fire Brigade of Caracas guessed them to be about 400.000, CNN spoke of hundreds of thousands. Whatever it was February 14th marked an additional success for the opposition against the “Bolivarian Revolution”. The Demonstration in Caracas did not need any support from inside the country. Already by February 12th numerous demonstrations of the opposition had started within the regions which continued in other provinces by February 15th. Altogether the opposition succeeded to mobilize the country. Not so much the Revolution counterpart. For their last demonstration on January 23rd, they needed to transport participants from all parts of the country in order to be able to offer a halfway reasonable stage show for President Chavez. The horse race facilities where they got together were partly destroyed afterwards. Busses standing for miles beside the highways showing which province they belonged to and by which state organizations and entities they were sent for assistance.

The opposition had to make a difficult decision. February 13th was the day, according to CNE rules (National Electoral Council), to decide if the opposition collected sufficient signatures against President Chavez and if the revoking referendum could go ahead in compliance with Art. 72 of the Constitution. February 13th already meant 57 days late, in comparison to the initial CNE time schedule. The OAS and Carter Center had declared that putting off the decision until February 28th would be acceptable. The USA and other countries immediately made similar statements. Jorge Rodriguez, one of the 5 Directors of the CNE, announced late in the evening a decision for February 29th.

The opposition’s idea was to march to the CNE’s headquarters as a “reminder” and through a delegation hand a document outlining their discontent to the CNE board of directors. The government, having closed all access to the area around the building, declared it would deny access by all means and would only guarantee safety up to the Botanic Garden (outside the city center). Therefore the opposition was under pressure to fulfill its goal of delivering a letter of protest. Mainly because of their own members who were fed up with the constant delay in the time schedule and also with the never-ending threats issued by the government. Following intensive discussions sense gave way within the opposition. Leaving from 6 different spots, the highway at the Botanic Garden was to be reached. There NGO SUMATE already had shelters built up where citizens could check their signature given in the collection drive between Nov.28 – Dec.1.2003. The opposition does this to offer an open reassurance statement against President Chavez, who does not get tired to speak of the Mega Fraud of the opposition. The last time, at a press conference on February 13th, Chavez, utilizing the media, showed some “falsifications.” Governor Enrique Mendoza responded with amusement that the opposition could offer a substantial amount of additional material to the president. To begin with their technical outfit is far more advanced than that of the CNE’s or the government’s counterpart [Commando Ayacucho]. Secondly the opposition always declared that an margin of error of about 8% had to be taken into consideration. It must be stressed that the opposition has an agreement with SUMATE, so that this NGO processes all data in a professional manner. But still, even a 20% error margin it would mean that the opposition surpasses the 2.5 million signatures required for the revoking referendum (3.4 million signatures minus 680.000 errors are still 2.72 million signatures).

Nevertheless it was not easy for the leaders of the “Coordinadora Democratica” to defend their point of view. Some of their members would not understand why the way to the CNE headquarters was blocked and why the opposition did not insist. Again critical spots showed a dilemma for the opposition, which where 2 ways leading from the Botanic Garden straight to the CNE building. At these critical places they seemed to be missing a well planned strategy and trained order keepers and helpers, to restrain radical nutcases. “My country is worth more than my children“, exclaimed one of those radicals when asked to think about his family by a by passer in order to withdraw from the senseless intent to break through the barriers of the “Policia Metropolitana”. The politicians of the opposition, Oscar Ocariz (Primero Justicia), Antonio Ledezma (Alianza Bravo Pueblo) and Alfredo Ramos (CTV), who tried to stop the radicals, had to suffer insults as “no tienen bolas“ (you don’t have balls) and more.

The opposition will wait until March 15th for the announcement of the result. Then there will be a big demonstration. Out of joy or out of protest. Again it can be expected that the government will order extreme security measures and command a great amount of military into the city. At least by then the opposition will have to do some adequate demonstration planning. But first of all personnel in charge of keeping the peace have to be appointed and trained to avoid provocation and to undermine the bases of radical forces. There are enough examples worldwide how violent activities could be avoided by the use of human chains.

But all together February 14th was a clear victory point for the opposition.

Translated by Peter Weitz

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