Updated (postscript below: 2004/6/28)
The results came back from the voting commission and the independent observers Thursday as promised. Over 2,500,000 signatures were shown to be valid. That number is sufficient to launch the recall referendum, a vote planned for the eighth of August. Yesterday the middle classes were out to celebrate and they formed a formidable crowd but they were not to be outdone today by the Chavistas!
This weekend has been a weekend of marches. Saturday was the contra-Chavistas, a predominantly middle class suburban group that passed peacefully with many political banners present for the right wing candidates which will stand against Chavez in the recall. The numbers were impressive but the numbers this afternoon of the Chavista supporters were larger. I shall leave it to the authorities and the pundits for both sides to provide the counts but to my mind the Chavez supporters today outnumbered the Contra-Chavez opposition in the streets by a conservative three to two.
As the Venezuelan flags flew high (with at least one large Cuban flag) on the skyrise slums in Parque Central above Bellas Artes Metro Station, tens of thousands of Chavistas entered the main plaza via freeway intersections past the Caracas Hilton. The only traffic passing through downtown Caracas are the helicopters overhead. The streets are chock-a-block with rural buses which have transported the loyal and happy Chavistas to recover their capital.
Safe in their suites above the few western journalists that had bothered to come had their tripods and video cameras out on the Hilton balconies. From above the sea of red was spectacular but the people were in the streets happily cohorting with their army (all sporting red berets).
Today is party time in Caracas, Chavez still can expect to take the rural vote and much of the working classes but he needs to do more to ensure his victory. One can expect that the government might be spending some of the extraordinary war chest of thousands of millions of US dollars on the kinds of projects he should have been funding all along. Rebuilding the infrastructure of Caracas would be a start. The main freeways passing through the city are a disgrace. With Caracas the capital city of the country that supplies much of the asphalt that covers the streets of Washington DC, the streets here are full of deep potholes.
August shall be a tight and much scrutinied race.
The newspapers report today a warning from Hugo Chavez to his opponents that the recall referendum should be an end to it. This thinly veiled threat that direct action will result if they do not desist after the recall referendum is counted an over. The announcement showed that Chavez is confident of victory in August when the country will go to the polls to see whether ot not he should be allowed to complete his term. In order for Chavez to be defeated in the recall referendum his opponents need to attain more votes than he himself received in the election which elected him.
In a further show of strength F-16’s drowned out traffic noise and set off car alarms in downtown Caracas today. The ‘training’ for the July 5th celebrations were unusually loud, the jet fighters flying low.