Half a million Venezuelans converged on the capital city, Caracas, Jan. 23 to support the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chavez, and to protest a shutdown declared Dec. 2 by a business-led coalition.

“Chavez won’t go!” was the main slogan of the demonstrators, many of whom wore red clothing and berets and waved placards and flags in the symbolic color of the “Chavistas.”

“This is the man who took away the power of the rich and corrupt who governed for 40 years,” Nancy Coina, a 42-year- old mother who prepares and sells fruit preserves in a small eastern Venezuela town, told Inter Press Service. “He can’t leave, because we won’t let him,” she added.

“The more the fascist oligarchy tries to squash the people, the louder will be the response,” Chavez told the crowd, many of whom rode the hundreds of buses that brought demonstrators from every region of the country.

The day before the march, the Supreme Court had suspended a non-binding referendum the opposition had sought to hold on Feb. 2, in defiance of the constitution.

Many observers have noted that the actual situation in Venezuela is considerably different from that portrayed in most U.S. media. In a Jan. 12 Washington Post article, Mark Weisbrot reported that in Caracas late last month, he saw few signs of the stoppage – often called a “strike” by the media – in poor and working-class areas. “Streets were crowded with holiday shoppers, metro trains and buses were running normally, and shops were open for business. Only in the eastern, wealthier neighborhoods of the capital were businesses mostly closed.”

Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, said that outside the oil industry, few workers are actually staying away from their jobs. He noted that management is leading the shutdown at PDVSA, the state- owned oil company that controls the industry, because it is at odds with the government.

Nor is the Chavez government aiming for totalitarian control, said Francisco Jose Moreno in a Christian Science Monitor article Jan. 22. “Coup and strike not withstanding, the opposition has had no success because it has been unable to convince the world that the unwillingness to abide by Venezuela’s laws and constitution represent a defense of, not an attack on, democracy,” he wrote. The opposition’s claims that Chavez is a dictator “jars with the complete political and journalistic freedom enjoyed in the country,” he pointed out.

“What’s really at stake,” Moreno wrote, “isn’t the ‘radicalization’ of the country or the emergence of a totalitarian dictatorship, but the threat that Venezuela will no longer be in the hands of those who controlled it during the past 30 years of corrupt politics and inept economic policies.”

At its Central Committee meeting in mid-January, the Communist Party of Venezuela pointed out that rank and file workers in the oil industry had foiled the upper management’s sabotage, while ordinary workers had kept the steel and aluminum mills, electric industry, ports, and other basic economic entities open and working.

“The sabotage against PDVSA is being defeated, and very soon the Venezuelan people will be able to rely on an oil company that for the first time ever will truly be at the service of the national interests of Bolivar’s homeland,” the CPV said.

“As we have stated in the past, U.S. imperialism is and has been the driving force and the instigator behind this attack,” the CPV said. “Indeed, the Bolivarian doctrine of Latin American and Caribbean liberation and integration is directly opposed to the free-market agenda and the FTAA project advocated by the U.S. government.”

The author can be reached at cpusainternat@mindspring.com

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