Large Crowds Turn Out for 200-Year Independence Celebrations in Venezuela

In a massive show of support for the Bolivarian revolution led by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, an estimated one million red-clad supporters turned out to watch the “Independence and Revolution” bicentennial civic-military parade, in Los Procéres, Caracas yesterday.

Bicentenary of Independence Celebrations (Correo del Orinoco)

Caracas, April 20, 2010 ( – In a massive show of support for the Bolivarian revolution led by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, an estimated one million red-clad supporters turned out to watch the “Independence and Revolution” bicentennial civic-military parade, in Los Procéres, Caracas yesterday.

The parade marked 200 years since the founding of the First Republic of Venezuela, with the overthrow of Spanish colonial authorities and the establishment of the country’s first independent government, which lasted until 25 July 1812. On July 5, 1811 Venezuela’s congress declared the nation’s independence, becoming the first Spanish American colony to do so. The process sparked a broader war of independence across Latin America led by Venezuelan independence fighter Simon Bolivar, after whom Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” is named.

The bicentennial event began with a sky show with the unprecedented participation of the first female military pilot in Venezuela, flight lieutenant, Yanet Sanchez, and the deployment of  recently acquired Chinese K8-W fighter jets, Russian made Sukhoi MK-30’s and U.S. produced F-16’s, which flew over the skies of the capital forming a figurative “V” for Venezuela.

Leaders of the country’s 33 indigenous groups together with Venezuelan athletes headed the parade, which featured the some 6,600 military personnel and 5,400 civilians including student and peasant groups, workers militia’s from the state-owned oil and steel companies, PDVSA and Sidor, as well as representatives of social movements, collectives and cultural organisations.

Guests who attended the celebrations included the presidents Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Raul Castro of Cuba, Rafael Correa of  Ecuador, Daniel Ortega Nicaragua, and Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic, as well as the prime ministers of Antigua and Barbuda, Winston Baldwin Spencer, of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerryt, and of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, and diplomatic representatives of many other countries.

Cristina Fernandez, who was the guest of honour at the celebrations, spoke of a “second independence” in Latin America that is signified by the growing push for independence from U.S. domination and for regional integration.

“The first centenary of independence in 1910 brought us an America far removed from what they [the independence fighters] dreamed. A system was imposed on us that subordinated our region to the extraction of raw materials to generate wealth far from our lands.”

“The bicentenary finds the peoples of South America in a new stage of transformation and in what I call the Second Independence… we are pursuing the liberation of our peoples and the unity of our region, always respecting our differences and the plurality of our identities.” she said.

Fernandez added that “the world has changed more over the last 20 or 30 years, than in two hundred years, and this brings us new challenges and new interpretations. A new international order is being born.”

Chavez, who was elected on a wave of anti-neoliberal rebellion in 1998, initiated the founding of what is known as the Fifth Republic or the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela via a constituent assembly and the adoption of a new constitution through a popular referendum in 1999.

Since then he has pursued a project of radical change in Venezuela with the aim of building “Socialism of the 21st Century,” which has the backing of the country’s poor majority, but bought him into conflict with traditional ruling elites.

Internationally, he has pursued a vigorous policy of independence, sovereignty and the promotion of Latin American unity based on the ideas of Bolivar, which has earned him the hostility of the United States, which in 2002 backed a short-lived military coup against him.

In a special ceremony Chavez and the visiting leaders laid a wreath at the tomb of Simon Bolivar in the national Pantheon in Caracas, which houses the remains of Venezuela’s national heroes. Then, in a bicentennial address from the national assembly, Chavez recalled the words of former Argentine president Juan Domingo Perón, who said “The 21st Century will find us [Latin America] united or dominated” adding that the full independence of Venezuela would not be possible without the independence of all of Latin America.

“This is the century of our America, of the liberation of our peoples, of the consolidation of our independence…never again will Venezuela be a Yankee colony,” he declared.

The April 19 celebrations follow a week of activites, including political forums, cultural events, a Bicentennial marathon, and all-night parties and fireworks displays in the Bolivar Plaza of each town and city all around the country.

The bicentenary year has also sparked a renewed examination of Venezuelan history and in particular the role of women.

Luis Pellicer, director of the National Archive, and Venezuelan feminist historian Alba Carosio have proposed that the remains of female independence leaders also be placed in the National Pantheon, including the “symbolic” remains of Ecuadorian born Manuela Saenz and indigenous resistance leader Apacuana, among others.

Maria León, Minister for Women and Gender Equality, who supports the move said, “We only knew of Manuela Sáenz as the mistress of the Liberator [Bolivar]. I remember in the 1960s, when I became a guerrilla, they told me who Manuela was.” Sáenz should be recognised in her own right for her role in the independence struggle León argued.

“Women” Pellicer added, “have not been the subject of history, or social relations, or material life, they have been an object, and less than an object. That’s part of the hegemonic mentality which we are fighting against.”

“Women played a major role in the victories of our armies in every campaign of Independence,” Pellicer noted, but “nobody knows about it, because it is in documents, but not written in any book. Women were in the streets calling for a republic and protesting against the king and as a result were sent to prison.”

However Venezuelan historians are creating “an insurgent historiography” that celebrates the role of women and the people and these stories will soon be in the public domain he said.