Saturday, September 7, 2013

Last Day in Los Roques

Los Roques, Venezuela (December 11, 2004)

--- Originally published on December 12, 2004 ---

The last day in Los Roques we decided to take it easy. We went to the nearest island (Madrisqui) and stayed there for the morning (we had to go back in Gran Roque by 5PM to catch the airplane to Caracas). We spent the morning resting on the beach (very similar to the one above, all white coral sand), and listening to the conversation of our neighbors. They were a middle aged couple accompanied by a local, who talked all the time about his active role in the local opposition party. In the end I didn’t have very clear if he was sincere in his tirade or was just faking it for the sake of his employer, as we know that during the 2002 coup, when the president Chavez was prisoner in a nearby island (la Orchila, see update below) the fishermen of Los Roques organized an expedition to free him (he was freed by his captors before they could actually carry on their plans). 

In the afternoon we went for our last snorkeling dive of the trip. On the backside of the island there is a nice coral reef, which is however difficult to reach from the beach. What we did was to enter in the water from the beach and then swim our way to the reef. Unfortunately there was some “agua mala” (urticant algae) so we had to clear the initial part of the dive quite fast. When we finally reached the reef we didn’t want to go back the same way, so we just swam all around the reef to the other side of the island where we managed to find our way between the corals (not an easy operation due to the shallow waters). The full dive was quite tiresome, but a good ending for our vacation, as we managed to see a lot of new fishes, even though the corals were quite ruined (I believe by some storms a few years before). We made it just in time for the boat that was to bring us back, run to the posada for a very fast shower, and then to the airfield to catch the plane back to Caracas. Last note of the day: in the Caracas airport we met one of the uncountable cousins of Mayli (yes, large family) and her spanish fiancee, in transit to Puerto de la Cruz (east of Venezuela) to visit her sister.

--- Updates (September 6, 2013) ---

It is time to elaborate on the 2002 coup against the venezuelan president Chavez, which I have abundantly mentioned in this and previous blog posts. It is a fascinating story worth telling. The coup came as the culmination of a long struggle between the loyalist party, supported by the lower economical classes (by far the majority of the venezuelan population) and the opposition parties (financed by the US and supported by the high and middle classes, the anti-communist corrupted unions and the Opus Dei, one of the most reactionary sector of the Catholic Church). The day preceding the coup the opposition organized a protest through the center of Caracas, which was diverted at the last minute to march towards the presidential palace (Miraflores) demanding the resignation of the president. The same day, supporters of the president had organized their own march. The two groups were kept (barely) separated by the municipal police (controlled by the city government, in control of the opposition). This didn't last long: violence soon started at the now infamous "puente Llaguno" (an overpass in Caracas) with police and demonstrators shooting to each other. To this date there is no agreement about what happened exactly, and who started to shoot first. The fact is that demonstrators on both sides started to fall, many hit on the head by hidden sharpshooters. The violence was broadcasted live on the (private, pro-opposition) TV, accusing the government of the massacre and appealing to the military to intervene.

And the military did intervene, taking Chavez prisoner to the Orchila island (near Los Roques), while the head of the Chamber of Commerce Pedro Carmona was installed as provisional president. His first act was to suspend the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the Electoral Commission and just about any other elected official. He then put on his mint-new presidential sash, that he "presciently" ordered a few months before, and smiled.

This in fact didn't go very well with the supporters of Chavez that, within the lower economical classes numbered in the millions. They all descended to the streets demanding the return of "their" president. The military themselves were divided, with the US-educated higher echelons supporting the coup, and the rank-and-file troops loyalist to Chavez. The turning point came when Raul Baduel, an old-time comrade of Chavez and at the time the chief of an important military garrison, refused to submit to the coup and menaced to attack Caracas (Baduel years later fell from Chavez favor and was imprisoned under corruption charges --- he is still in prison today). At the same time the presidential guard (that the organizers of the coup forgot to replace) in the Miraflores palace organized their counter-coup, taking Carmona and his provisional president prisoner, thus reversing the situation. Chavez was released shortly after and reinstated as legitimate president. All this lasted less than three days.

You can see the whole thing (and more) unfolding in the excellent documentary made by an irish troupe that by chance was in Venezuela when this happened.

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