December 2, 2003
As the opposition signature drive to request a recall on President Chavez’s mandate came to a close on Monday evening, pro-Chavez supporters poured into the streets around the presidential palace, Miraflores, to celebrate an early victory. Joyful Gaita music, the typical Venezuelan holiday music, rang through the streets as Venezuelans gazed gleefully at one another. “We have won,” they declared, dancing to the Gaita in their brilliant red, blue and yellow attire, many with “I love Chavez” red bands wrapped around their heads. Many of those in the streets believed the government’s claims that the opposition had not gathered enough signatures to reach the 2.4 million needed to request the recall referendum. Others believed that if they were to reach that amount, it was because of rampant fraud and sabotage of the signature process.
Having just arrived to Caracas that afternoon, I was overwhelmed by the massive positive energy felt in the streets outside Miraflores that evening. It was around 10:30pm when Chavez came out to give a preliminary victory speech on a stage full of his closest cabinet members and legislators. He was beaming with pride for his constituents and diplomatic in his recognition and respect for those who used the signature process in a democratic manner and followed the rules set forth by the National Elections Council. He praised Venezuelans for confronting these difficult moments with strength, determination and motivation to make the nation a more peaceful, democratic, balanced place to live. He regretted that many opposition members had attempted to sabotage the signature process, or had committed fraud, caused unnecessary disruptions, or resorted to dirty tactics, such as forcing employees to sign or risk losing employment, and forcing elderly people to sign by denying them access to food and resources.
He spoke for two hours, full of energy and satisfaction, and confident in his place as the Venezuelan President. He sang, laughed and cried, and finally had to say goodbye soon after midnight, as he told his audience to go home and rest, because tomorrow was yet another celebration to be held. December 2nd commemorates the first day of the major oil industry shut out last December 2002 that crippled the Venezuelan economy and sabotaged the oil industry. One year later, as Venezuela’s oil industry is back to full production and PDVSA, the state-owned oil company, is once again the life blood of the economy, funding the new social programs such as Mission Robinson and Mission Ribas, that are offering cost free literacy programs and university education to a broad sector of the population. Yes, December 2nd is another day of celebration in Venezuela – the day that PDVSA was almost brought down, but instead was rescued by brave employees and citizens that fought the imposed strike and revived the oil industry.
But as Chavez said goodbye to his supporters, who cried out, “Uh Ah, Chavez No Se Va”, I stood there on the stage nearby alongside ministers Diosdado Cabello, Jesse Chacon, Aristobulo Isturiz and assembly members Juan Barreto, Nicolas Maduro, Luis Tascon and many others, and looked at him in amazement. After a two-hour speech, at nearly 1am, he could still be so brilliantly articulate, thoughtful and poignant in his words. And after he finished, I found myself standing right in front of him, being welcomed to Caracas with a big Chavez hug, and it felt like I’d truly come home.