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Our man in Caracas Venezuela Diary #1

STEVE SWEENEY reports from the Bolivarian capital on the stories and perspectives you won't read in the corporate media

THERE is a different Venezuela from the one you hear about in the mainstream media. It exists in the sidestreets and alleyways, the markets, bars and shops, the barrios and the parks where ordinary Venezuelans live their daily lives. I saw it today.

It would be easy to romanticise a nation that is under the daily threat of imperialist intervention. And it would also be easy to dismiss the difficulties faced by Venezuelans.

However what I found today does not fit the narrative being played out on television screens and in newspapers across liberal western democracies, many of whom are calling for the democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro to stand down in favour of their puppet, the unelected President of the defunct National Assembly Juan Guaido.

This is not to say that opposition to Maduro doesn’t exist. It does. I met and spoke with Venezuelans in Caracas today who didn’t support him. Isabel, a 77-year-old who lived in the US for more than 40 years gave a disapproving look and gestured with her thumb down when I spoke to her outside the Museum of Modern Art in central Caracas.

“I love my country,” she told me, “I am part of the soil and I don’t like what is happening. Maduro is no good.”

However when I mentioned Guaido’s name she laughed. “No, no. Not Guaido. It is up to Venezuelans to decide what happens to us.”

I heard similar sentiment while wandering around one of the many street markets in Caracas. After abandoning my efforts to find a Venezuelan football shirt and a Maduro-style tracksuit, my mind turned to food and I soon stumbled across three portraits of Hugo Chavez and started snapping.

“No Chavista,” one of the stallholders said to me, shaking her head. She proceeded to speak to me in Spanish. My comprehension would have been enhanced by a better understanding of the language. However, despite my limitations it wasn’t difficult to follow her. She too had no faith in Guaido though, dismissing him with a wave of the hand and a sigh.

But they were an exception. To be absolutely clear a very large majority support Maduro and the government. Nothing underlined this better than the mass demonstration which saw hundreds of thousands mobilising on the Angostura Bridge in support of Maduro and against imperialist intervention last night - which has not been covered internationally, of course.

The fact is, although in a tiny minority, people were happy to speak openly about their opposition to Maduro and the government. A far cry from the fearful nation too terrified to voice their opinions that is portrayed in the media for western consumption, part of the propaganda blitz laying the ground for the Washington-led coup which is growing in intensity.

However there was a calm across Caracas. This was despite the news today that imperialist forces were rumoured to be gathering in neighbouring Colombia in preparation of an imminent ground invasion. People were going about their day as per usual. The street vendors were selling their goods. The supermarkets and stores were full of food and other supplies, as were the pharmacies. I even found the cheese that angered the BBC’s Orla Guerin so much (in case anyone is interested it’s about 6,500 Bolivars a kilo).

Most people I encountered were friendly and welcoming. They were eager to talk and express their support for the government and Nicolas Maduro.

Graffiti and street art adorns most walls across the capital, under bridges and on the side of buildings in the main thoroughfares. Nearly all of it is pro-Maduro and there are hundreds of graffiti portraits of Hugo Chavez and the Liberator Simon Bolivar across the city.

I spoke with some scaffolders early this morning. They were unloading for a stage that was being set-up in at the entrance to one of the main parks. Music was blasting from their vehicle, upbeat in tempo. We laughed and sang together and I even joined them in a dance as they carried on with their work. All three were black Venezuelans and all were unequivocal in their support for the Bolivarian government.

“Viva Maduro. Viva Venezuela,” they proclaimed in unison, with their arms raised and fist clenched in a socialist salute. One of them Rodrigo had his hand on his heart. In his broken English he explained how Chavez had “liberated the poor” and he thought Maduro “is a good man, like Chavez.”

They complemented me on my trainers - adidas just in case you wondered - and I went on my way with a spring in my step and a smile on my face as they shouted after me and I could hear friendly roars of laughter at our encounter.

In one of the shopping malls I saw the same familiar scene that takes place at every shopping mall in the world. Families with children sitting down eating burgers, pizza and pasta in the food halls. Groups of teenagers hanging out after school. The usual clothes, sports and mobile phone shops found in any major city.

Walking past one of the many barbers (there were loads, although not as many as there are in Turkey), a group of men and women were gathered round a television screen. I was looking through the window and was ushered inside. People were watching Maduro speak, seeming to hang off his every word. He was flanked by army generals, speaking about the need to build a People’s Front against imperialist intervention. They seemed reassured by what they were hearing, with clapping and approving nods all round.

I spent the late afternoon in the park reading the works of Simon Bolivar, El Libertador. His words and writings are more relevant today than ever, as he speaks of the revolutionary defence of Venezuela which was liberated from the Spanish yoke. As Venezuela faces its latest threat, from imperialism in the form of US finance capital, the people are preparing to repel invaders once again. Make no mistake, if the US goes ahead with a military intervention it will end in a bloody defeat. Maduro has already promised to turn it into a new Vietnam. But the reality is it will be much, much worse.

My day ended watching a football tournament. There were huge numbers of parents and children cheering on mixed teams of boys and girls as the dust flew up while they kicked a ball around a grassless pitch. Many shirts had the name of Venezuelan star player Solomon Rondon on the back and they played with an unbridled joy.

Saturday beckons with a large demonstration planned in support of the government and against imperialist war. International protests will be held in solidarity, so important in countering the lies that are being peddled in the mainstream media and fed by bourgeois governments, including in Britain. The solidarity is important in letting the people of Venezuela know they are not alone and it is certainly felt here in Caracas.

Viva Venezuela - hasta la victoria siempre!

Follow Steve Sweeney on Twitter via @SweeneySteve for regular updates from Venezuela.

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