Infiltrating the verbena ñángara downtown: Chavismo's 19-A

We sent our intrepid reporter Gaby J. Miller to hang out on Avenida Bolívar yesterday. Bizarrely enough, what she found was a party atmosphere.

This photo released by Venezuelan presidential press office is seen President Nicolas Maduro during a rally in Caracas on September 1, 2016. Venezuela's opposition and government head into a crucial test of strength Thursday with massive marches for and against a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro that have raised fears of a violent confrontation. / AFP PHOTO / Marcelo_Garcia

Yesterday, Downtown Caracas felt like a leftie matinee. It felt far, far away from the tear gas and repression just a couple of kilometers to the East and West. Salsa music, people dancing on the streets, some bottles disguised in brown paper bags and free oranges were on offer there, where the opposition may not go.  

Chavistas were out celebrating. Tons of buses showed that the government was up to its usual tactics. Public employees, forced to march; people in the rest of the country, bused in.

The rally broke down into groups: milicianos over here, a group from Misión Madres de la Patria further on, workers from the ministry of fisheries or from the Metro de Caracas over there, each with signs to identify them. All in a day’s work.

At times, it felt like a cierre de campaña, an election rally. They threw everything at this.

Just in front of the Defense Ministry building, a small group started early to gather in front of their office and from there started to walk and join the big concentration.

On the way to Avenida Bolívar, music trucks played salsa de camioneta por puesto interspersed with catchy chavista tunes like the funky, ska-infused Adelante Comandante:

From time to time you could hear something from Alí Primera but mostly they stuck to salsa. Reliable crowd-pleaser.

From some of the nearby buildings, people started to cacerolear, banging pots and pans in protest. I even heard two old ladies with shirts from some forgotten agriculture plan complaining about neighbors throwing stuff from buildings. But nothing was going to stop the party. They even brought back the huge inflatable Chávez for atmosphere. Couples dancing and young guys in UNEFA uniforms shouting slogans…even an old lady wearing a fake Maduro mustache managed to find someone to dance salsa with.  

Some groups decided to take a break, sitting on the streets, eating fresh oranges that trucks were giving away, while others stopped to take a selfie. From time to time you could see an “anti imperialist” sign or hear someone scream “fuera yankees”.

We’ve learned to distrust VTV’s tomas cerradas, but the fact is that turnout was decent.

It was a great day for peddlers. An old guy with hat sold me a bottle of water for Bs 1,500 — 150 dollars at the official rate. He said he was giving me a deal: the “real” price was Bs.1,800. Then he told me how happy he was to sell out all his stuff before noon. I overheard a young guy with a Venezuelan flag track jacket collecting money from his group of friend to buy a bottle.

It was a party vibe, like everyone had decided to set aside worrying about shortages, about crime and queues and just celebrate “la revolución” for an afternoon. It was the happiest place in the country.

We’ve learned to distrust VTV’s tomas cerradas, but the fact is that turnout was decent. It wasn’t a “historic” turnout or anything like it, but a pretty good crowd. Sure, it’s not that hard to get people to turn out when the cost of not turning out is their job, but still: it didn’t feel like a crowd that was about to turn on its masters. Far from it. Baffling though it might be to us, there are still chavistas out there, and they’re still into this stuff.