Today Zulia Governor Manuel Rosales, who in a scant two weeks has become the unified candidate of the opposition, formally registered to run for President at the CNE. He held a rally prior to the registration, which I attended. The rally left from the Ateneo and went to Plaza Caracas in front of the CNE, a distance which I guess is maybe three or four Kms. That Rosales would register today was covered by the press, but there was no massive advertising campaign to ask people to go. I was impressed by the attendance, it rained for half the walk and Plaza Caracas was overflowed by the people and when Rosales’ speech ended and he went inside the CNE, there were still people trying to get into the square.
Attendance was quite diverse, not a huge middle class presence, which is good, you know who they are going to vote mostly for. It was clear that the political parties worked at bringing people to the rally. There were buses, but not on the scale of Chavez’ last Saturday and clearly people were there because they decided to go. No Government resources at work.
The message was clearly carefully chosen. It is a message of unity, a Government for all Venezuelans and Rosales’ speech was clearly directed to Chavistas and those undecided or looking for an alternative to Chavismo. There were posters saying “26 million Venezuelans”, “Dare to change” and “Chavista brother, Rosales gives you his hand”. Rosales’ speech followed that script calling on “all Venezuelans”, “a Government for all, without exclusions” and hitting on the Government’s incompetence, particularly on poverty, housing and crime.
Clearly Rosales’ speech will not mention Chavez directly very much during the upcoming campaign. He certainly avioded any direct references today, but was tough on the President. Rosales said that as President he would care about Venezuelans and “will not hold anyone’s hands or sit on anyone’s lap” in clear reference to last week’s visit by Chavez with Fidel Castro. He also referred to “that guy that said poverty is good is absolutely wrong, we need to erradicate poverty in Venezuela”. He critcized the Government’s foreign policy, saying that there is no reason for Venezuela to pretend that the US should bow in front of it or to give foreign countries gifts as long as there are so many problems in Venezuela. He took advantage of the rally being in downtown Caracas, which is a dirty mess, to criticize the Government’s inaction in this city. He said he felt sorry for Caracas and would, as President, try to make it look as nice and clean as he has made Maracaibo look. In a great phrase carried over the international news, Rosales says: “Nobody here (in Venezuela) will have to wear a red shirt or belong to any party in exchange for anything”. Wonder what Hugo will say tomorrow about this?
Above, some pictures of the rally: as we were walking towards the CNE (top left), at Plaza Caracas (top right), some ladies really got enthusiastric waving whatever they had in their hands (Bottom left), a poster saying “we don’t want Fidel or Bush” (Bottomo middle and Two ladies with Rosales campaign poster and slogan “Dare to with Rosales…For 26 million”. More pictures here.
An interesting beginning and certainly Rosales is getting people more enthused about the election than I had hoped for a month ago. He has also managed to rally around him most political parties in the opposition and seems to have taken the thunder away from the candidacy of comic Conde del Guacharo. A unified candidacy in which he has also named his former competitors to important campaign positions, but he is clearly the leader in how things will proceed. Very exciting.