To celebrate 10 years in government President Hugo Chavez declared February 2 a public holiday, seeing thousands rallying and celebrating around the country, and shops, schools, and banks closed.
On February 2, 1999, Chavez was sworn in as president after receiving 56% of the vote. Chavez declared that date a work free day across the country so that people and workers could attend the celebration of the 10th anniversary of “the day when the peaceful Bolivarian Revolution and the people became the government.”
Chavez made the announcement on Saturday night at the end of a friendly softball match between the Venezuelan Women’s Olympic team and a team supporting the constitutional amendment to be voted on on February 15.
The vice-minister for work, Abraham Mussa said the decree for a work free day should be followed by all companies and that those who didn’t could be subject to administrative sanctions.
“It’s a non working day, a day of joy, of workers spending time with their families, celebrating 10 years of achievements, 10 years of the missions’we will take the necessary administrative actions to companies who deviate from this.”
Government supporters rallied in the main city plazas across the country, where speakers spoke out against the violent tactics of the opposition, highlighted the achievements of the government over the last decade, and spoke in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment.
Despite heavy rain and near flooded roads, thousands turned out in Caracas to celebrate and wait for the president, Hugo Chavez, some for many hours.
Coming from a Bolivarian Alternative for Latin American and the Caribbean meeting (ALBA) Chavez, along with Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua, and Manuel Zelaya, president of Honduras, arrived at the center of the mass rally on the back of a truck, to celebrate the Bolivarian Revolution.
Morales said, “Today I want to express, in the name of the Bolivian people, my enormous satisfaction for this Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution.”
Ortega told the crowd, “This is a revolution that will never give up,” while Zelaya thanked Chavez for “being able to share with you all the most historical moment in the history of Venezuela.”
In Merida, although a few shops remained open, most were closed. In the main plaza, where hundreds of people dressed in red converged from 10 am, there was a mood of festivity and people danced to the pro-Chavez music playing over the loud speakers.
Students, workers, people from the missions and United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) leaders gave speeches.
One of the attendees, Raquel Barrios, a worker in the National Institute of Health, Prevention, and Worker Security (INPSASEL) said she was celebrating “10 years of social inclusion’the missions and the programs directed at the poorest sectors and the working class which has been traditionally ignored by previous governments’the dignification of the poor and the just treatment of all.”
Guillermo Al Tamal, a community radio worker, said the main achievement in the last 10 years was “the deepening of democratic participation and popular power.”
Mervin Maldonado, a university student, said he was celebrating because, “Ten years ago hope arrived in Venezuela, and since then our country has been realizing the dream of Bolivar, and raising the level and quality of life of everyone.”
Teresa Mora, a regional PSUV leader concluded her speech with, “Without Chavez- nothing, with Chavez- everything.”
The final speaker was a woman, Emilia Sozo, who hadn’t been to school before the Chavez government, but said, “now I’m studying’we are going to really defend this revolution.”
In Bolivar city, members of the Socialist Cultural Front and the Little House of Puppets gave performances alluding to the importance of the message of the liberator, Simon Bolivar. Then the governor of the state, Francisco Gomez, as well as other leaders, gave speeches.
At a rally in Maracay, Aragua state, Joglis Parra, a young man with a disability in his hands which meant he was previously rejected from schools, described how he had learnt to read and write in the Mission Robinson, a basic education program, and was taught to write with his feet, “Before I didn’t know anything’the Mission Robinson saved me and I have learnt things that I never imagined I could.”
Various opposition sectors, including the chamber of commerce and the chamber of private schools said they would comply with the decreed holiday but expressed their discontent, saying the measure was “irresponsible” due to the lack of advance notice, and bad for the economy in a time of financial crisis. Roberto Luckert, vice president of the Episcopal Conference of Venezuela said there was “nothing to celebrate”.
The daily paper, El Universal, quoting the Chamber of Commerce, reported that the National Guard had closed businesses in some states, “including pharmacies, for disrespect to the national holiday declared by the president of the republic.”
However, the general commander of the National Guard, Fredys Carrion, denied that the National Guard had closed any shops and said that there was a general climate of calmness.
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This post was written by Tamara Pearson