Bracing for Convulsions in Caracas

CARACAS, Venezuala – The ear-splitting explosions came ripping through the quiet about 5:30 this morning. BA-BOOM!! BA-BOOM!!, BA-BOOM!! – every few seconds right outside the window, followed by a crack-crack-crack-crack that through the haze of sleep sounded for sure like machine-gun fire.

But those of us living here in the downtown bureau know better and within a few seconds we were clear that this was no gun fire, but a wild dawn fireworks display being launched from the top of a building beside the state oil company, PDVSA, a few blocks away.

The election is just a few days out now, and we’ve all been sensing a uptick in street tension between
Chavistas and opposition backers on the street. . . . But what the hell? Full-blown fireworks at five in the morning?!

Cutraro, the photographer, came out of the back bedroom like he’d been awake the whole time. “Are you guys hearing this?” he asked. “Somebody’s trying to pull some shit out there! This is more than

Hearn, in a hammock slung across the newsroom, was already awake. “Definitely, something’s up,” he said. “It’s just too constant. That’s an expensive show out there, it’s too constant for somebody on the street to be doing it.”


“Maybe Fidel finally kicked it,” said Taylor, rolling over on a bed in the corner. “They’re celebrating
cause the reins area gonna be passed to Chavez this weekend.”

We peered out the window. Crack-crack-crack. BA-BOOOM!!!

As the sky turned lighter, Cutraro was back in the bedroom scanning the news channels, but no word. Around 6:00, after a half hour, it began to subside. But the occasional thunderous pops still rattled the windows. We decided to try and ignore it. Get some more sleep. After all, the transition of power – the election – is the weakest point in any Democracy, and this is Democracy Venezuela-style.

Four hours later we are in a super market doing what the U.S. Embassy suggested on Wedensday that Americans here do: stock up on water, food and meds. We were not the only ones. Supermarket workers told us the race was on to prepare for what could be a major convulsion over the weekend. As Hearn was buying fruit, a stooped old lady sampled the produce and overheard him asking questions about the election. She told him she expected chaos. “Ojala que no,” he said, “God willing
not.” She raised her finger, scowling. “No, God willing. If we sit back and do nothing Chavez will
make this like Cuba, with no rights. If some people have to die to keep that from happening, then it must happen.”

WPR contributors Kelly Hearn and Andrew Cutraro contributed to this post.

Further reading: Chávez Marches On By Guy Taylor, Prospect Magazine; Chávez’s Latest Enemy: Beer Trucks By Kelly Hearn, The Christian Science Monitor: Uruguay, Argentina Governments Revisit ‘Dirty War’ Crimes By Kelly Hearn, World Politics Review.

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