Skip to comments."Day of Jubilation:" Venezuela Split by Chavez Celebration of 1992 Coup
Posted on 02/04/2002 1:00:34 PM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Cheered by supporters wearing red and jeered by black-clad foes, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Monday feted the botched 1992 coup that made him famous, saying it had spawned a full-scale "revolution."
The disputed 10th anniversary of the bloody revolt led by Chavez against then-President Carlos Andres Perez sharply divided followers and opponents of the firebrand former paratrooper who now rules the oil-rich South American country.
Chavez, who won the presidency through the ballot box six years after failing to seize power with the gun, had declared the Feb. 4 anniversary a "day of jubilation" and led four days of government-organized rallies, marches and ceremonies.
"It was a dark night smelling of gunpowder and lead," Chavez, who wore a dark suit instead of military fatigues, said in a homage to those killed during the uprising led by him.
"And here we are today, 10 years later, in the midst of a full-scale revolution, well on the way toward definitively restoring social justice for the people," he added.
But opponents, who have challenged his 3-year-old rule with a widely-supported work stoppage and street protests in recent months, said the date was a black day for Venezuelan democracy and should be mourned, not celebrated.
They accuse the left-wing populist president of trying to impose a Cuban-style regime in the world's No. 4 oil exporter.
Many analysts fear the escalating political confrontation could turn more violent and some even predict Chavez may be forced out of power, either through a constitutional challenge or a military coup, before the end of this year.
In wealthy eastern neighborhoods of Caracas, a sprawling city where posh high-rise apartments and offices rub shoulders with hillsides of poor slums, many citizens wore black clothes and trailed black flags from cars to protest the anniversary.
But Chavez supporters wearing red berets and banners patrolled the streets near the Miraflores palace and Fuerte Tiuna military complex as the president recalled with open pride and nostalgia his failed coup attempt 10 years earlier.
CHAVEZ SAYS OPPOSITION WILL NOT SHIFT HIM
As part of the celebrations, the tough-talking president signed into law a decree giving property titles to the hundreds of thousands of slum-dwellers whose precarious ramshackle brick homes and wooden shacks carpet the hills surrounding the city.
Chavez scoffed at his opponents, who have accused him of frightening off capital and investment and fomenting social conflict with his aggressive public diatribes against critics in the media, the Catholic Church and private business groups.
"They are not going to get rid of Chavez, but they are damaging the country," the president said.
The Feb. 4, 1992, uprising failed to topple then-President Perez, but it transformed coup leader Chavez into a national figure. In a dramatic televised surrender, the red-bereted paratroop officer promised "better times" would come.
Pardoned after serving two years in jail, Chavez turned to politics and swept into the presidency with a landslide 1998 win, promising the same crusade against corruption and poverty that had motivated his coup attempt six years before.
The president, who says his 1992 coup bid initiated a historical change for Venezuela, began Monday's celebration with a homage to Simon Bolivar, the 19th century independence hero he has adopted as the inspiration for his revolution.
Black-garbed anti-Chavez protesters blocked some main avenues, and groups of cars honking their horns and flying black pennants snarled Caracas' already congested traffic.
But in the city center, Maria Concepcion Garcia, an elderly woman in a red beret, described the Feb. 4 date as "memorable". "If it hadn't been for that, Chavez wouldn't be president and we would not have this magnificent revolution," she said.
Former president Perez, speaking to Venezuelan radio from exile abroad, roundly condemned Monday's celebrations of the coup bid, as the "stupidest mistake that you could make".
I spent a good deal of my childhood in South America. Shortly after I was born my family moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina where we lived for 4 years. I went to grade school in Bolivia, and Venezuela. I wouldn't trade my childhood memories for anything in the world. Latin America, especially South America, is a wondrous and captivating place to live.
Having said that... Hugo Chavez is a misguided idiot. He's trying to drag Venezuela into a Marxist dream that has been proved, time and time again, to be a utopian fantasy. Before the people of Latin America can enjoy real progress and economic success they must choose a future that includes real democracy and free trade.
I hope they see real democracy soon.
I don't think they're complacent anymore.
Over 100,000 turned out in opposition against him.
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