Dona Miriam Vásquez got up earlier than usual this Saturday, February 4th. At 5:30 in the morning, she was already making coffee and preparing arepas, a typical breakfast dish for any Venezuelan. “I woke up content, happy and anxious”, she confesses to the Brazil in fact. Yes, Miriam Miriam still gets anxious before every “4F”, as she affectionately refers to the occasion. Even after having lived through 31 of them since 1992, when the date came to be considered a political milestone in the history of Venezuela, the 72-year-old Chavista made a point of taking to the streets of Caracas today, alongside thousands of people, to celebrate the anniversary of the military uprising led by the lieutenant colonel who would become president, Hugo Chávez.
“On that February 4, 1992, when the movements started, my husband and I took to the streets to participate and try to help in some way. There was a mixed feeling of fear, because we didn’t know how it would end, but also of hope, because someone had to face that crisis situation we were experiencing”, he explains.
The movements to which Miriam refers were part of the operation carried out by a group of young left-wing soldiers gathered in the Movimento Bolivariano Revolucionário 200 (MBR-200) that decided to rise up against the government of then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez. At the time, a strong climate of discontent and social unrest was taking over the country, which was still feeling the consequences of the repression of the popular protests of 1989, during the episode that went down in history as Caracazo.
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The neoliberal policies adopted by the Pérez government in an attempt to contain the economic crisis and inflation at that time faced strong rejection from a large part of the population, which contributed to strengthen the insurrectionary ideas of the MBR-200 within the Armed Forces. At the same time, when these soldiers rose up against the government on February 4th in cities like Valencia, Maracaibo, Maracay and Caracas, they were supported by popular sectors dissatisfied with the situation in the country.
“We knew it would be something good for Venezuela, because there was a clamor for change, we needed to get out of that situation”, says Miriam, who says she remembers perfectly when she saw Chávez for the first time, on television, later that same day.
The television appearance of the then colonel took place hours after the uprising, when it had already failed. Although the rebels took power in some regions, forces loyal to the government managed to defeat them in the capital. Already detained, Chávez had the opportunity to speak to the press, in a message broadcast on national television.
“Comrades, regrettably, for now, the objectives we proposed have not been achieved in the capital city. (…) It is time to avoid further bloodshed, it is time to reflect and new situations will come and the country must definitely head towards a better fate.”
It was with these words that the future president – until then an unknown military man – appeared on the Venezuelan political scene and became, overnight, an extremely popular figure. That’s why Chávez’s message has become, over the years, the kind of historic event that everyone who witnessed it remembers where they were and what they were doing when it happened.
Yenni Rodríguez was 18 years old when she watched the then colonel take over the military movement on TV. Daughter of militants of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), she remembers that in her house the uprising was celebrated and considered an opportunity to channel the popular struggles of that moment.
“We thought it was a movement that could continue the fight against capitalist, bourgeois and imperialist oppression and, at that moment, we knew that Chávez would be a leader who could represent the interests of our class”, he tells the Brazil in fact.
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Others, despite the feeling of hope, considered a more pessimistic outcome for the arrested rebel soldier. To the Brazil in factZélia Duarte says that she even thought they would kill Chávez after the failure of the rebellion.
“I was in my house, cooking, when I saw that message. I thought they were going to kill him, because no one could take that on with such courage and live on. It was on that day that I decided to become a Chavista,” says 69-year-old Zélia, a resident of the parish of Santa Teresa.
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In prison, Chávez became one of the main leftist leaders in the country and his movement, which would assume the name of Movimento Quinta República (MVR), began to gain more and more followers.
Miriam Vásquez tells how she got involved in militancy. Working at a print shop in the capital at that time, she and other Chavista companions managed to organize a clandestine printing center that operated at the company’s headquarters after hours. There they printed posters, stickers and booklets for Chávez’s liberation campaign and other political agitation materials for the movement.
“The police, on one occasion, found out about our activities, invaded the print shop, seized the materials and took two comrades under arrest. There was a persecution against our movement”, he says.
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Chávez would only be released two years later, in 1994, by an amnesty granted by former president Rafael Caldera, who faced strong popular pressure for the release of the “4F” rebels. Out of prison, the former soldier took over the leadership of the MVR, transforming it into the political party that would lead him to the Presidency in the 1998 elections.
As she walks alongside hundreds of people through the streets of the Zona Rental, west of Caracas, towards Paseo dos Próceres, the final destination of the march, Miriam confesses to the Brazil in fact who is not in the best of health conditions, but who insisted on attending.
“I had a heart attack two months ago. My neighbors didn’t want to let me come, but I didn’t accept it because if I stayed home on a day like today I would be very sad. It nourishes me, fills me with joy”, he says.
Edition: Glauco Faria
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