On Saturday 21 April there was a large pro-opposition demonstration outside the Venezuelan Embassy in London
To the chants of “fraude, fraude” and “se ve, se siente, Capriles presidente” (You can see it, you can feel it, Capriles is the president), supporters of defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles massed outside in the warm afternoon on the sunny side of the street. In West London’s museum quarter, the Saturday afternoon locals and tourists wandering past the brimming cafes and delicatessens of the neighbourhood were met by two lively sides of Latin political passion: the mostly yellow, blue and red pro-Capriles fans and the colourful rainbow coalition of pro-Maduro demonstrators.
The police kept the two sides apart and they only came to vocal blows. The main points of contention for the opposition were over the administration of the results – such as the apparent ratification of the election outcome before all the votes had been counted – and the resulting calls for an election audit, and for the pro-Maduro supporters it was the alleged undemocratic capitalist-etched attempts to overthrow a popularly and fairly elected government. Here are some of the protesters in their own words:
1. Marisol Mantilla, 32, IT consultant, Venezuelan, pro-Capriles
“The supposed support the chavistas give to the poor is a lie…the real poverty in Venezuela should be exposed…I would like to go back one day but there is security in London…80% of the Venezuelan population is ignorant.”
2. Paul Barbara, 70, human rights campaigner, British, pro-Maduro
“I have solidarity with the poor people of the world and with legitimately elected governments…the Venezuelan voting system is celebrated as a better system than the British one.”
3. Jenny, 31, human resources manager, Venezuelan, pro-Capriles
“I’m flabbergasted. I question how there can already have been an inauguration…it’s a slap in the face and a joke.”
4. Teresa, no age given, artist, no nationality given, pro-Maduro
“The Venezuelans are being oppressed by multi-national companies…we have conviction and the Capriles supporters are scared…you have to tell both sides of the story to be truthful.”
This was undoubtedly a major opposition protest and something that the pro-Maduro men and women lamented was the short notice they were given to try to organise a counter-protest. And the global make-up of the chavista demonstration was notable, with Peruvian, Argentinian, Bolivian, Cuban, rainbow and many more flags strung on the shady side of the embassy building.
The pro-opposition supporters never stopped loud-hailing their anti-Maduro chants and they swayed and seethed against the election results together. The cacerolazo, the classic Latin American pot- and pan-banging protest, was brought to the South Kensington streets. When it was added to the yellow tops, red-and-blue caps, and deep lines confronting the Maduro bloc, it made for a heady effervescence. It was quietly challenged by Morning Star British socialists and other Latin Americans showing their broad spectrum of solidarity that they placed opposite what they labelled as a privileged elite rich enough to be able to leave the homeland and thus be immediately disconnected from the travails on the ground. They defended the scarcity of Venezuelans in their ranks by saying that the true Venezuelans eking out a living at home cannot afford fancy flights to European capitals. When questioned about wealth, many opposition activists were more than willing to defend their expatriate status – “I had nothing when I arrived, I knew no English, I’ve worked hard all my life”, “I married a Briton and return to Venezuela for Christmas” and “how can you question someone’s patriotism just because they are not in their homeland at one particular moment” were some of the responses I received.
If you take the course of the Comandante’s 13 years in power as a whole, then whilst there certainly was positioning and jostling behind him, his throne was never in real danger from either a) rivals from his own side or b) the opposition. He was knocked off briefly during the short coup in 2002, but all that revealed was an unsteady opposition with an unsure plan and a reinforced military standing full-square in league with Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution.
But now, with the mercurial man gone, the opposition senses, perhaps more convincingly then in recent memory, that they have a true chance of derailing the fledgling Maduro administration. Henrique Capriles was defeated by Chavez in October 2012 – the last election that the late ‘son of Bolivar’ fought before his death in March – but this time around, having gone in again for the presidency, Capriles and his supporters are certainly not taking his apparent second election loss lightly. In October he accepted the defeat, despite the energetic campaign he led. But this time around, he seems to be going nowhere against a juvenile cabinet full of uncertain positions and policy and one that is reeling from the death of its brother comrade, the man who answered all previous queries, who filled all previous vacuums and whose exit from the stage has exposed more than ever a country in need of a sure footing. It does not seem to have that at the moment.