The ad on the radio said the MUD would have its campaign closing act (“cierre de campaña”) on Wednesday, 3pm at Plaza Brión, so I thought I’d check it out. The stage was set up in front of Centro Comercial Chacaito, and when I arrived, “Mi felicidad” was playing over and over again on a loop while the lyrics were projected on a big screen.
At first, the setting bugged me. Caracas opposition voters were having their campaign closing in a municipality that isn’t even technically in Caracas. In Municipio Libertador – Caracas proper – there are any number of spaces where this rally could have taken place: Plaza Venezuela, Plaza Caracas, Los Proceres, el Bulevar de Catia. Hard luck: PSUV Mayor Jorge Rodríguez would never allow such a thing to happen on his turf. Chacaíto it had to be.
I got there early, and already some people were gathering, but not enough to trouble any day’s rush hour in a central spot in Caracas public transport system, like Chacaíto. In Av. Pichincha you could still see the long lines of people going to the south-east: Baruta, La Trinidad, Las Minas. Kioskos were open, and everything seemed normal.
On the stage, technicians were still working on the lights and sound system. Soon, spots of the different MUD candidates in Distrito Capital were on the screen, the act beginning was at hand. I must confess, I am not fond of rap or hip hop, so I was surprised by a rap video called “Nuestro paraíso” by Chino Warlock; I was shocked when it started with Simón Bolívar himself.
The animation began, welcoming everybody and explaining several times how to vote: “abajo, a la izquierda, la de la manito”.
It started raining but nobody left. Some had their umbrellas; the rest of us just walked towards the mall and try to shelter under the eaves. The crowd was not a sifrinos’ concentration: young and old, middle class and working class, families with small kids. Most of them seemed to be political activists with their party’s t-shirt. Different flags could be seen: Primero Justicia, Voluntad Popular, Vente Venezuela, and also… rainbow flags!
Our first singer was Frank Croquer, “La Voz”. He finished with “La vida es un carnaval” and the party mood started. Next we had our first speaker, Jesús Abreu, candidate in the 1st circuit of Distrito Capital (Catia, El Junquito, La Pastora). He wore an orange shirt of Voluntad Popular and talked about the political prisoners, the students and Leopoldo López, In the National Assembly they would approve an amnesty law to free them all. Several times he said “¡Fuerza y fe!”
Then we had more music: Serenata Boys and Chino Warlock, life. The crowd loved his song, and when he finished singing he asked for 1 minute of silence for the deceased in street protests.
Our second speaker was José Guerra, candidate in the 4th circuit (Coche, El Valle, Santa Rosalía). He started talking about economic and social problems (inflation, poverty) and then says that winning the National Assembly should be to promote solutions, not conflict. His speech was the most technical one, explaining 4 law proposals. But the crowd wasn’t in the mood for public policy. Then Marialbert Barrios came onto the stage, also a candidate in the 1st circuit. She talked about the university crisis, and the need to address youth problems: quality education and decent jobs. She also says they would improve social policy (“las misiones sociales”).
There is also a group of followers in a building’s balcony: with balloons, a Venezuelan flag and banners saying “apoyamos el cambio” and “liberen a los estudiantes” the neighbors also cheered and waved to the candidates. In the street, people are getting euphoric now; flyers are thrown into the air and fall like confetti over the crowd.
I was intrigued by the group carrying rainbow flags and tried to reach them but I realized I was surrounded and the street has turned into a moshpit – “la olla del Poliedro”… and I was in the middle. I only could see they were boys and girls in their 20’s, some of them with white t-shirts saying “el cambio viene y nada lo detiene” along with a small portrait of Leopoldo López. They were heading to the front of the stage and I lost them. Now and then the public sings “y va a caer / y va a caer / este gobierno va a caer”.
When Maracaibo 15 started their traditional Christmas songs everyone was dancing and singing along with them. The street became a big holiday party. It was a long set of all you need to know about gaita zuliana. After a while, Betulio Medina arrived saying “la gaita siempre ha sido protesta” and sang “La grey zuliana”.
Then he proposed a countdown, as if we were on New Year’s Eve. As we counted down and the traditional songs (“Yo no me olvido del año Viejo / porque me ha dejado cosas muy buenas” and “¿Qué te pasa, viejo año, qué te pasa? / que ya tienes las maletas preparadas”) all the candidates of Distrito Capital were on the stage. The crowd was ecstatic.
I saw joy, I saw hope.