Caracas, April 14, 2009, (venezuelanalysis.com) -- President Hugo Chavez addressed thousands of supporters who rallied at the presidential palace yesterday to celebrate the National Day of Dignity which commemorates the day on which Chavez was returned to power after being temporarily ousted by a coup d´etat seven years ago. Chavez was overthrown on April 11, 2002 but the constitutional order was restored two days later on April 13.
The festive crowd stretched for blocks along the sloping Urdaneta Avenue, the same street where, seven years ago, thousands of Venezuelans had congregated to demand that a group of military generals who had apprehended Chavez release him from custody.
Venezuelans in the rally reflected on the coup d´etat. "The worst of all was the role of the media," said Roque Valera, a social worker who works for the mayor´s office in Caracas. "We were unable to obtain any information about what was going on and we were not able to use public transportation [due to the opposition-led general strike], so everyone had to walk here."
Reflecting on current world affairs, Elder Barrios, a twenty-six year old medical student who traveled here from the southern state of Trujillo, explained that, "No one knows how much damage the global [economic] crisis is going to cause, but like our commander [Chavez] says, this global crisis is not going to touch a single hair on the head of any Venezuelan."
At 5:45 pm a tremor went through the crowd as Chavez came to the stage. He began his speech by recounting his recent tour of Arab and Asian nations and praising the leaders of various countries which he had visited. "Communist China, thanks to its political system, will transform into the hope for an exit from the economic crisis created in Washington," he said, adding that, "China will become the great power of the twenty first century."
The president of Venezuela later shifted to domestic issues and criticized the political opposition whom he characterized as "full of hatred." He stated that, in contrast, "we continue to live for love, the love of being human, and that is what you call socialism."
At various points during his speech Chavez was interrupted by raucous cheering and chants. At one point he looked at his watch as if imploring the crowd to quiet and stated jokingly that he only had two hours left to speak.
In reference to those opposition sectors responsible for the coup Chavez stated that, "in those initial years there was a battle between two forces that could not coexist within one state and within one government: the forces of the revolution and those of the counter revolution."
Standing under a giant banner which read "Remember April!" he said, "I was the king idiot of them all," referring to his previously held belief that he could work with those sectors which later attempted to overthrow the constitutional order. He also urged his supporters to be vigilant toward any future attempts at destabilization and said that "the 13 of April should be everyday of our lives."
Chavez commented on the recent case of the 3 police commissionaires and 8 police officers of the Caracas Metropolitan Police force who were convicted of killing civilians during the coup d´etat at the Llaguno Bridge on April 11, 2002. These officials were sentenced by a judge last week to prison terms ranging from 16 to 30 years.
While expressing satisfaction with this sentence Chavez nonetheless called it merely "a light breeze of justice" and stated that impunity continued to be the rule for the television stations which had played a political role during the coup. He requested an investigation of these stations which include Venevision, Globovision, RCTV and Televen. He also noted that the "intellectual authors" of the coup had still not been brought to justice.
In a military ceremony commemorating the counter-coup also attended by Chavez on the same day, the military reserves changed their name to the National Bolivarian Militia.
Chavez classified the militia as "the people armed" and said that the armed forces were becoming more "revolutionary, anti-imperialist, socialist and popular" every day.
"There Was No Coup"
Certain sections of the political opposition, constituted in political parties and the media, maintain that there was no coup and some opposition leaders repeat the claim that Chavez ordered his supporters who had gathered at the Llaguno Bridge to fire on the crowd of oppositionists located on the street below.
Enrique Ochoa, General Secretary of the opposition party A New Era (UNT, for their initials in Spanish) is quoted in the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal as stating that, "The Lieutenant Coronal in his current state of retirement, Chavez Frias, has chosen the [police] commissioners as victims of his personal rage and vengeance, procuring not only to falsify history with this sentence but also to wash his murderous and cowardly face."
Ochoa also insisted that the president had retained sole responsibility for the killing of nineteen civilians, among them both opponents and supporters of the government, on April 11, 2002 and that there was no coup but rather a peaceful uprising which succeeded in ousting Chavez from power due to the climate of instability generated by the clash between anti and pro Chavez demonstrators.
The mass circulation daily, El Nacional, which is run by the powerful Otero family, stated in its lead editorial on April 11, 2009 that, "Everyone knows that those events were provoked by [the presidential palace] Miraflores...executed by armed bands of government supporters."
In a twist, opposition students at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) in Caracas led by Yon Goicoechea, a member of the Justice First (PJ) party. called for a new round of student protests last week. Speaking on the same program on opposition TV channel, Globalvision, Ricardo Sanchez, president of the UCV´s student union, said that students should march on the National Assembly to "re-vindicate" April 13, "our National Day of Dignity." April 13 is a commemoration normally associated with Chavez supporters.
In addition, opposition students had previously referred to themselves as representing "civil society" which is sharply distinguished from Chavez supporters, most of whom come from the lower classes. Nonetheless, no opposition protests were reported to have taken place.