Mérida, 4th March 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Sunday pro-Chavez and opposition youth movements gathered in different parts of Caracas to demonstrate their respective positions over the political situation in Venezuela related to President Hugo Chavez’s health.
Hugo Chavez is recovering from a cancer operation undergone in Havana last December, his fourth since June 2011. According to official information, he is currently in the Dr. Carlos Arvelo military hospital in Caracas, where he is fighting a respiratory infection and being submitted to chemotherapy treatment.
Apart from a set of official photographs, the Venezuelan president has not been publicly seen since his operation, and the government has reported that he is temporarily unable to speak due to having a tracheal tube in place to assist his breathing.
Students and supporters of the opposition demanded “the truth” on Chavez’s state of health and accused the government of “lying” over the Venezuelan president’s condition. They also called for immediate elections if Chavez is shown to be unable perform his presidential duties.
Meanwhile, the youth wing of the government’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (JPSUV) organised a large gathering in central Caracas to show their support for Chavez in his recovery, and to criticise the stance taken by the opposition over the issue.
“Chavez has given a lot to this country and he deserves to recover accompanied by his family, like any human being,” said JPSUV national coordinator Hanthony Coello to the crowd.
Noting the expansion in free university education under the Chavez government, Coello continued, “Today education is free thanks to the [Bolivarian] revolution. That’s why we say that the [opposition’s] puppet-students are being manipulated, playing a sad role”.
Participants at the event danced, chanted slogans and and expressed their desire to give Chavez time to recover from his illness. The pro-Chavez youth also criticised opposition students as being “manipulated, taking to the streets for nothing”, and “not loving their own country”.
“We must remember that with Chavez, the youth has undergone a revolutionary process of consciousness and identification with the nation. We’re here to defend our people and what we have today,” said Yelimar Zacarías, a student at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV).
Several government ministers and PSUV figures were present at the march, including communication minister Ernesto Villegas. He declared that the opposition were attempting to “destabilise” the country by unleashing a wave of rumours about Chavez’s state of health.
Meanwhile, youth minister Maripili Hernández argued that Venezuela’s youth “is very clear and knows that the objective is that Chavez gets better. If they have to be in the streets to defend the revolutionary process, then that’s what they’ll do”.
It was confirmed at the event that the JPSUV are planning a mass bike-ride through Caracas as part of their campaign to support Chavez and the Bolivarian process.
Opposition “March for the Truth”
Opposition students and supporters marched on Sunday to demand “the truth” on Chavez’s state of health.
Opposition leaders such as Henrique Capriles, who is currently in the United States on undisclosed business, have recently intensified accusations that the government is “lying” over the Venezuelan president’s condition.
Demonstrators marched to where a group of around 50 anti-government students have chained themselves outside a government building in the upmarket Chacao district, in a stunt begun last Tuesday which the students have called “Operation Sovereignty”.
The opposition protesters demanded a medical committee be formed to assess Chavez’s health, and that new elections be called if he is declared unable to govern.
“We don’t know the true state of the president, and we want them [the government] to tell us the truth: whether Chavez is able to continue governing or not,” one participant said to Reuters.
The Venezuelan government maintains that Chavez is still governing and making the “big decisions” during his recovery; however that his treatment is “difficult” and requires time.
Constitutionally, if Chavez was considered unable to govern while he fights cancer, the national assembly could declare a “temporary presidential absence” for 90 days, extendable thereafter, rather than call new elections.
Opposition marchers chanted slogans such as “neither the Cubans nor the Chavistas have seen Chavez, not even in cartoons!” and branded placards such as “Cubans go home”, in an allusion to the opposition’s claim that the Venezuelan government is “receiving orders” from Cuba during Chavez’s convalescence.
The march was also attended by radical opposition politicians such as assembly deputy Maria Corina Machado and former presidential primaries candidate Diego Arria.
International media such as the BBC and Al Jazeera, covering the day’s events, only mentioned the opposition’s march, reporting that “hundreds” attended. However, they did not report on the pro-Chavez youth event, which drew significantly larger attendance.
Later in the day, a group of pro-Chavez students confronted the self-chained opposition students in Chacao, and tried to convince them to drop their protest.
The Chavista youth challenged the opposition students to a debate over the political situation in the country, a proposition that was accepted.
Venezuelan private news website Noticias 24 reported that the incident turned into a general street debate, with people of all ages intervening with their points of view, while curious passers-by watched on.