Monday, 19th April was the bi-centennial celebrations for Venezuela’s independence from Spain. Ever since our arrival in Caracas, the city has been plastered with artwork and signs proclaiming the 200th anniversary and the rallies that would accompany them.
The largest gathering was in the early afternoon at Los Proceres, a grand and spectacular avenue. Around half a million red-clad Venezuelans attended the parade and display. Despite some of the challenges of the revolution, everyone at the parade expressed their support for the revolution and the fact that they are ready to defend it unconditionally.
Prior to the celebrations, the international corporate media had been criticizing the bicentennial celebrations, saying that President Hugo Chávez was trying to use the image of Simon Bolívar to cement his so-called “authoritarian rule.” The parade had a festive feel with many families in attendance. The Marxists of Lucha de Clases were also there with their new paper of the same name. People from all walks of life, supportive of the revolution, eagerly grabbed the paper from the comrades’ hands. On more than one occasion, people would walk past only to return seconds later, interested in getting their own copy. It was telling that at a rally of this size, with ordinary workers and PSUV supporters present in the hundreds of thousands, the IMT comrades were the only Marxists present.
The highlight of the parade was the military display. Columns of tanks roared past the crowds. At the same time, Russian fighter jets and fighter helicopters made numerous low fly-bys, both shocking and delighting Venezuelans, particularly the children.
Undoubtedly, the mouthpieces of imperialism such as the BBC, the Globe and Mail, and CNN will surely proclaim that this is only further proof of the dangers that Venezuela poses to the hemisphere. On the contrary; the display of Venezuela’s military might was not to scare its neighbours. Instead, it was a more dangerous message to the imperialist powers: this is an armed revolution that will not be swept away like others before it. This was particularly shown by one woman who cried out, “Just try to attack us, yanquis!”
The most astonishing display came well after the parade, however. As the hundreds of thousands began to leave the parade grounds, the tanks and the Venezuelan soldiers returned and parked their tanks along the parade route. The soldiers got out of the tanks, and began milling with the crowds! They were fraternizing in the friendliest of fashions with the masses. The soldiers even opened up the tanks so that everyone, including the children, could explore the military equipment and take pictures alongside the soldiers. This is not something that one sees everyday, and certainly not something that you would see from the US or Canadian armies. Going along with the display from the 13th April rallies that demonstrated the strength of the popular militias, there are two messages that are being sent to Venezuelans and to the world. The first is that this is an armed revolution that will be defended. This is not going to be another Chile or Indonesia where the counter-revolutionaries will be able to roll in and crush the people. If the oligarchy and their imperialist allies want to intervene to destroy the revolution, then they will have to be prepared to fight bitterly.
The second, and perhaps most important, message from these two marches is that the Venezuelan forces are not your traditional army. This is an army that feels that it is part of the masses and has something in common with them. This does have an important ramification as this is not going to be an army that the oligarchy can depend upon in the event of a counter-revolution. How can the capitalists count upon these soldiers if they feel that they have a connection with the masses they are supposed to fire on?
The fact that substantial sectors of the Venezuelan army are fraternizing with the masses shows how favourable the situation is. The socialist transformation of society could be carried out quite easily, without major bloodshed, if a bold lead is given. If Chávez called on the masses to complete the revolution by expropriating the bourgeoisie, capitalism would be finished in Venezuela tomorrow.
The greatest danger facing the revolution right now is exhaustion by the masses after ten years of fighting. Certainly, we have witnessed a certain level of displeasure at the slow pace of change but as events like the bi-centennial celebrations show, the masses still believe that this is their revolution and that they will do anything to defend its conquests from imperialism and the Venezuelan oligarchy.