Campaign Rally Gets Down and Dirty in Venezuela
CARACAS, Venezuela - Some pretty raw things get shouted at political rallies. The one held here Saturday by supporters of Manuel Rosales, the lead opposition candidate to President Hugo Chavez in the upcoming Dec. 3 election, was no exception.
We were riding the subway deep beneath the city Saturday afternoon when a throng of Rosales backers boarded our train and began chanting "Este es la ruta, para sacar al hijo de puta." Translation: "This is the route we're gonna take to sack this son of a bitch."
Their voices soon filled the subway car and, after a few rounds, the chant changed to: "Hugo, Huguito, aprieta ese culito." Translation: "Hugo, Little Hugo, tighten your ass cheeks." My assistant, who was with me on the train, explained this is a common slang way to tell someone they better get ready because danger is coming. It certainly seemed to jive with the next chant: "Chavez esta cagado, Chavez esta cagado," which means "Chavez is shitting his pants, Chavez is shitting his pants."
For their part, Chavez supporters, known as "Chavistas" -- seriously, if you walk the halls of government buildings here, you will hear people exchange the solidarity greating of "hola Chavista" -- don't mind engaging in vulgarity of their own, even if it usually comes as a creative, dare I say humorous, response to the opposition slogans. Some Chavistas held a poster of Rosales at Saturday's rally, only they'd drawn long hair and lipstick on it to make him look like a transvestite. Playing off a staple chant of the Rosales campaign, "Atrevete acambiar," meaning "Dare to change," the Chavistas had written at the bottom of the poster "Do you dare to change with me?"
Other Chavistas chanted: "Somos Parasitos" -- "We are parasites." This was evidently meant as a play on Rosales' campaign trail warnings that Chavez's socialistic education and health programs (the latter of which finds some 11,000 Cuban doctors at work here) are creating a society of people sucking off the revenue of the state.
The opposition rally itself was impressive, although it ended with a bit of mystery. Rosales backers had marched through the city and right up to the start of Petare, a section of town considered by many to consist of the largest barrio, or ghetto, in all of Latin America. It seemed bold that an anti-Chavez march would lead to Petare, a known haven of Chavez supporters, where the president himself was greeted by cheering mobs just days earlier when he appeared there to open new health clinics.
A stage was erected at the edge of Petare on Saturday and thick electric cables led to speakers lining the street. Yet, when Rosales arrived with the first wave of marchers, he climbed not onto the stage, but aboard the back of a large truck and proceeded to make a one-minute statement. Literally, by the time most people in the crowd realized their man was speaking, it was over. I was too far away to see it myself, but several people later told me -- including an event security guard -- that an exhausted looking Rosales was then rushed away from the crowd. I found the whole thing rather amusing since I've heard both Chavistas and Rosales backers describe him as a man who does not speak well in front of crowds. It seemed odd he would not say more, as thousands stood waiting for a speech. One man said it appeared as if "something sketchy" had occurred and that's why Rosales was whisked away.
Within moments, meanwhile, we spotted a Chavista riding on the back of a motorcycle with a sign that said: "New Record, One Minute." We asked what it meant and he confirmed it was a joke about how Rosales had given such a short statement from the back of the truck rather than a speech from the waiting stage.
Few here seem eager to say it out loud, and there certainly are exceptions, but the whole opposition rally on Saturday felt kind of like a parade of moneyed white people, who appeared not so much to show support for Rosales, the governor of an oil-rich state in the northwestern corner of the country, but more to commiserate over fears that Chavez trying to is turn Venezuela into Cuba.
Indeed, there were exceptions, such as an Afro-Venezuelan Rosales supporter who insisted I give her a cigarette when she saw that I was jotting down notes as I watched her shout in front of a line of riot police: "Se acabo Cuba! Se acabo Cuba!" -- "Cuba is over! Cuba is over!"
"Chavez wants this to be another Cuba," the woman told me after I'd given her the smoke. "We don't want a dictatorship. That's what Chavez wants for Venezuela. We want a free country." She then broke off in mid-sentence to shout, "Jodete, jodete Chavista cono de madre!" -- "Fuck you, fuck you Chavista motherfucker!" -- at a woman walking by in a red t-shirt, the color worn by those who support Chavez.