Banner at start of march.
Activist Mark Thomas and Sam of Circus2Iraq.
Marching down Middle Meadow Walk.
March down Middle Meadow Walk. Mark Thomas on the right.
In the Meadows, Mark Thomas on the left.
In the meadows. Unidentified Argentinian gentleman (ace drummer!) in foreground.
Sunday August 15th 2004
There was a march and rally in Edinburgh today in solidarity with the democratic President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez. The overwhelming majority of Venezuelans first elected Chávez in 1998. Since then there has been a series of democratic reforms approved by the people through seven electoral processes. The reforms include a new progressive Constitution based on participatory democracy, real access to education eliminating illiteracy, laws benefiting small farmers and fisher people and massive health care, housing and food distribution programs. These changes initiated by the people and supported by the Chavez administration have alleviated poverty, empowered the population and addressed the inequalities created by neo-liberal IMF/World Bank policies.
However these popular initiatives are being intensely attacked by the wealthy Venezuelan ruling class, corporate media and US/European corporate interests. These attacks led to a media-staged fascist coup d’état in April 2002, which overthrew Chávez, imposing an unelected businessman in his place. A massive popular uprising with the support of the people and loyal military troops led to the Presidential palace being retaken. In spite of this popular victory counter revolutionary attacks continued including an oil strike and street shootings.
On August 15th in Venezuela there is a referendum vote to reconfirm Chavez as democratically elected President.
In sympathy with this there was a day of solidarity in Edinburgh. At around 4.20pm on a warm, humid afternoon a group of around 50 marched from Bristo Square near the University along the meadows under a huge banner saying “SOLIDARITY BOLIVARIAN REVOLUTION OF VENEZUELA.” To the beat of a samba drum chants of “Fuck Bush!” and “Venezuela!” the protestors went along Middle Meadow Walk where they met up with an Edinburgh samba band. At about 5pm the march reached the junction of Middle Meadow and North Meadow walk where there was a loud chanting of “Viva Chávez!” Taking part was activist and comedian Mark Thomas who is appearing in the Festival at the Bongo club until Wednesday August 18th.
6 labelled photographs are attached.
Here is an AP (Associated Press) report of the Election Day turnout:
Sunday 15 August 2004
Venezuela Voters Turn Out in Huge Numbers for Referendum on Embattled President Chavez
CARACAS, Venezuela Aug. 15, 2004 — Voters turned out in huge numbers Sunday to decide whether to keep populist President Hugo Chavez in power or oust him and his social revolution that critics say has sidelined the middle class and fuelled tensions between rich and poor.
Activists on both sides set off huge firecrackers and played recorded bugle songs to wake voters hours before dawn. Voters turned out in droves, waiting in line for five hours or more to cast ballots in the historic vote.
It was the first time in Venezuela's history that a referendum on cutting short a president's term in office has been held. The vote will determine whether the country continues with Chavez's social revolution, his centralizing of power in the presidency and close ties with Cuba policies that have deeply divided the nation.
"This is the largest turnout I have ever seen," exclaimed former President Jimmy Carter, who was helping to monitor the vote. "There are thousands of people in line, waiting patiently and without any disturbance."
Lines snaked for many blocks outside polling stations in upscale anti-Chavez neighbourhoods and in slums where the president maintains a loyal following because of his social programs on behalf of the poor, including scholarships, medical care and literacy campaigns.
Many Venezuelans adore the 50-year-old former army paratrooper for his efforts to improve the lives of the impoverished majority in the nation of 25 million. But critics say his "revolutionary" rhetoric has vilified the middle class and widened the gap between rich and poor. Many fear he is gradually imposing a Cuba-style dictatorship.
"Venezuela is making history," declared Information Minister Jesse Chacon. "This is a triumph for the Venezuelan people."
Chavez, a vocal critic of Washington's economic and foreign policies, and his opponents accuse each other of trampling over democratic boundaries in a political crisis that climaxed in a failed April 2002 two-day coup that left dozens dead in street protests.
"Today we're going to have a wonderful day," beamed Jose Eduardo Lopez, a 58-year-old taxi driver, as he stood in line in a hillside slum overlooking downtown Caracas. "Chavez will not only get enough votes to win, but will have enough to share. It will be a knockout."
Across town, thousands lined up to vote in the upscale La Castellana neighbourhood, where the sentiment was clearly anti-Chavez.
"I think everyone here is voting against Chavez," said Silvia Gomez, 49. "This country is a disaster."
Memories of past bloodshed raised fears that violence in the world's fifth-largest oil exporter could erupt again if the results are disputed as many were expecting a close outcome. Some pro-Chavez militants threatened attacks if any fraud was attempted, but the early polling was peaceful.
Nineteen people were killed in an anti-Chavez protest before he was ousted in a two-day April 2002 coup. Dozens more people were killed and hundreds wounded before Chavez was returned to power amid a popular uprising. Political riots last March claimed a dozen more lives.
Officials planned to release preliminary results hours after the polls close Sunday afternoon if one side has a clear lead. The election commission has ruled that only it can release polling figures. Exit polls were banned.
The referendum, with 14 million eligible voters, follows months of painstaking negotiations mediated by the Organization of American States and the non-profit Carter Center, the gathering of millions of signatures and rulings by the National Elections Council and the Supreme Court.
Chavez pledged to respect the results "no matter what they are."
Chavez, who led a failed military coup in 1992, was elected president on an anti-corruption, anti-poverty platform in 1998. After changes to the constitution, he was re-elected to a six-year term in 2000.
For the recall to succeed, more Venezuelans must vote against Chavez than the nearly 3.8 million who voted for him four years ago. Then new presidential elections must be held within 30 days, during which time Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel would head a transitional government.
The constitution is unclear on whether Chavez could run as a candidate if a new election is held, as he has said he would do. The opposition coalition has yet to name a potential candidate.
Edginess over possible disruptions in Venezuela's oil industry, which normally provides almost 15 percent of U.S. imports, contributed this week to record high oil prices, which have reached more than $46 a barrel.