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The morning traffic report, Caracas style…

Another fun day of rumors flying around cell-phones and inboxes. At about 8:50 am my favorite radio show was interrupted by a breathless reporter’s “breaking news” item, where she told us that traffic was heavier than usual on Caracas main east-west highway, not due to an accident or anything like that, but because a convoy of National Guard Armored Personnel Carriers had decided to park in the middle of the eastbound lane. As per usual, there was no official explanation, but the move came after another bout of speculation about imminent coups and-or self-coups/counter-coups.

These little outbursts of worry have been happening so frequently in the last few months most people kind of dismiss them with a resigned shrug of the shoulders these days. If I had a nickel for every time somebody’s called to tell me that they have it from “an inside source” and that “this time the coup really really is going to happen tonight, for sure, honest,” I’d have, well, a bunch of nickels. But light tanks rolling alongside you on your morning commute, well, that’s different.

Union Radio’s little write-up (Spanish only) gives a good feel for today’s zaniness. One of their reporters (a gutsy one, for sure) followed the tanks to their eventual destination, the La Carlota Air Force Base in the east of the city, and actually shoved a microphone in front of one of the commanding officers on the scene to ask him what on earth was going on. His answer, basically, is “we don’t know either, we were just told to move these troops here.” Great. Even the generals on the scene don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing.

The working guess is that they were moved there to counter a “vigil” that had been called by this right wing opposition grouplet called Fuerza Solidaria, for this afternoon right outside the Air Force base. Fuerza Solidaria is a fairly disreputable outfit, really: about as reactionary as reactionary gets and led by a Lyndon LaRouche followers. Seriously. This guy (Alejandro Peña Esclusa is his name) got arrested just last night by the secret police for trying to incite a coup. Frankly, as distasteful as the notion of a chavista secret police is, Peña Esclusa had it coming: he’d been very openly urging a rebellion in the last few days. All the mainstream/sane opposition leaders had been trying to distance themselves from the guy and the lunatic fringe he represents, saying Peña Esclusa was just giving Chávez the excuse he wanted to crack down on the opposition as a whole.

What’s really troubling is why the government feels so damn threatened by this guy, who nobody in the opposition takes seriously. Either Chávez is getting seriously paranoid, or they know something we don’t know. The sad thing is that by throwing him in jail they’re turning him into a martyr, giving him a far, far higher profile than he’s ever had before or, frankly, deserves. But maybe that’s the point: by making him a cause celebre, the government can then liken the entire opposition with Fuerza Solidaria, painting us all as deranged reactionaries. Then they can crack down. That might sound far-fetched to you, but the political debate in this country has gone so far off the rails that slightly conspiratorial explanations like that pan out all the time.

And the strategy seems to have worked moderately well: on its own, Fuerza Solidaria couldn’t have brought out more than 100 people or so to their little demo outside La Carlota. As it stands, it looks like they’ve turned out a few hundred. Nothing like the big marches the opposition has put together in the last few months, with literally hundreds of thousands of marchers. But still, enough for the government to continue its broad strategy of painting the opposition with a broad, radical-right-wing brush.

With any luck these guys will call it a day before night fall, go home, let the soldiers have a quiet night in. But the situation’s so tense now, and so many people have a vested interest in courting a violent confrontation, it’s impossible to tell.

Amanecerá y veremos…

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Known to friend and foe alike as Quico, Francisco Toro is Executive Editor at Caracas Chronicles.

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